The College Man

John’s phone began to ring, he sighed when he looked at the caller ID on the screen.

‘Hello Da, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until tomorrow.’ John put his phone on loudspeaker, he still had papers to finish.

‘Just wanted to check you’re ready. I know it’s only lunch, but your mother was so disappointed she couldn’t go to your graduation.’

‘Aye, I’m annoyed too. Normally I never eat from the college vending machines, but the first time that I do I get food poisoning from a ham and cheese sandwich.’

‘Never worry, you can’t control when you get sick. Just make sure you have that certificate ready for us to look at tomorrow.’

‘No problem, I’ll have it ready by then’, John winced almost as soon as he said it.

‘What do you mean you’ll have it ready?’

 John would have to think fast.

‘Isn’t it ready now?’

‘I bought a presentation case for the certificate today, I wanted to surprise you and mum tomorrow, I just need to put it in the case and then you’ll have something to hold on to.’

‘For a minute there I thought there was something dodgy going on,’ said his dad. ‘So, we’ll see you tomorrow. What’s the parking going to be like around your place?’

John pretended to listen for another half hour as his Dad droned about parking, rain and school buses. If he got off the phone then John could concentrate on his forgery, his parents would be so disappointed if John didn’t graduate. Bet the University never even considered their feelings before taking away my chance.

            After lunch John took his parents back to luxury apartment they paid for and he’d forgotten to clean. He grabbed the certificate and opened a window. John couldn’t help smiling as he admired his handiwork; inside the presentation case it almost looked real.

            ‘I’m such a proud father today, John, you’ll always be the first to graduate from our family. I’m just going take a picture to show your Uncle Charlie. Did I say he can get you a management position in his factory? It’s a good start for a college man.’

            John scratched his head and looked to the ceiling for inspiration, ‘thanks dad, but I’ve already got job as a structural engineer in …Kuwait. One of my lecturers knows someone who works out there and he put in a good word. But thank Uncle Charlie for me.’

            ‘That’s great!’ Said his father, ‘starting out on your own. You’ll be a self-made man, just like me. But won’t you miss the drink? Alcohol’s illegal there you know.’

            ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get a pint somehow.’

            ‘Aye, you always land on your feet. Have you your flight booked? I could probably get you a deal.’

            The loan company were very helpful, they could even lend John more than he asked for, if his dad would guarantee the repayments. Well, they do say their rates are competitive. ‘Can I bring the papers home to have a better look at them?’ Asked John, greedily gathering them together before anyone could reply. He found the best forgeries were created in the comfort of familiar surroundings, and his dad deserved nothing but the best.

‘I’m sure you’ll be runnin’ the place by the end of the week.’ John’s dad shook his hand as he dropped at the airport, ‘And remember to phone home once a week, otherwise your mother will get a flight out to look for you, and you don’t want that.’

‘I’ll remember!’ John forced a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. How can I sweat on such a cold day?

John put down his rucksack, shocked that something so small could hold everything that was important to him. He found his flight on the departure board; flight AL376 to Alicante. No-one questions pictures too much, so I don’t have to go to Kuwait. Spain looks similar. And both Alicante and Kuwait City are on the coast, so it’s not really lying.

Living in a windowless bed-sit below a chip-shop that could cheerfully be called a cell, he enjoyed pretending to be assistant to the chief engineer in project to build a skyscraper in Kuwait. High in the hills surrounding Alicante he even found a building site he could pretend was his project, if you chose your camera angles carefully. Then he got a girlfriend; the fake kind that inevitably follows a fake job, as surely as a fake job follows a fake degree.

His dad answered the phone when John rang to tell his parents about his girlfriend, ‘It’s just so great how things have worked out for you over there, putting your degree to good use. John, do know anything about this loan company that’s been contacting us?

‘Oh yes, they contacted me about letters they sent out by mistake. You can ignore anything else they send’.’

‘That’s a relief, those letters are piling up!’

John joined an acting class. I need to find an actress, the sooner, the better.

‘Son, can you come home?’ His dad sounded weary and distant, ‘Your mum isn’t too well at the minute.’

‘Of course, Da. I’ll make my own way from the airport.’

His dad looked close to death, his dark eyes sunken into black pits, his grey skin pulled tight against cheekbones.

‘Are you sure you aren’t the one who is ill?’ Joked John.

His dad mustered a weak smile, ‘Good to see you Son… Sorry we didn’t tell you sooner….’

‘What?’

‘With your new job n’all…your mother didn’t want to be a bother.’

THE END