Thursday, 31 July 2014

Acquaintance - Friday Flash

The two former school friends bumped into one another on the street. They shook hands heartily, clumping each other on the shoulder. The commotion of their boisterous reunion broadcast a warning to those pedestrians forging towards them sightlessly with their heads bowed to consult the augury of their phones, so that they managed to swerve around them without disaster. Yet above all the bustle of the street, the two men couldn’t make themselves understood, even when they inclined in towards the mouth of the other to hear what he was saying. 

The pair decided on adjourning to a café to catch up on old times. They snaffled a table just as the waitress was clearing it of the leavings from the previous occupants and ordered two cups of tea. While they stirred sugar into their milky brew, the pair proceeded to fumble for the vectors of alignment of their recollections. Yet they engendered none of the call and response of familiarity. They failed to finish each other’s sentences with that curious intimacy born of shared experience. They recounted events with a similar hollowness that the other vaguely remembered but without any illumination. While they could both place themselves at the same occasions, there was none of the customary effervescence of a reciprocal memory that meant they could place each other there. 

This was because neither had been the protagonist in these recalled scenes. Both had been on the margins, stationed in the boostering chorus (men do not acknowledge any cheerleading role), while others took centre stage with prodigious drinking feats, bodily regurgitation of such feats, or the violence that inevitably ensued. To find such exploits truly memorable and recountable, you had to be there, which they were of course, but perhaps really only tangentially. You don’t allow for wallflowers outside of dancehalls and that usually applied to women, but both men had been let’s call them spear carriers for the main actors and this was dawning on them as they increasingly failed to depict themselves or the other as heroic in any single incident. They were not at the moral centre, because their timidity had determined the moral decision making process for them from the very outset.

They were barely listening to the other as their thoughts turned inward to process these revelations made through lacunae. This happy coincidence which should have prompted a reclamation of carefree youthful joy, had merely shown up their lack of dimension then as now. They couldn’t connect in any pleasing way. Neither cared what the other was currently engaged in and what he had made of his life. For he was reflecting that he himself had still achieved nothing noteworthy, had made very little of his own life in line with the unpromising, modest beginnings. 

The pauses elongated into silences. Though ill-aligned, now the urgency was to break away from their contiguity. Both gulped their tea and made sure to slurp the dregs as loudly as possible to signal an empty cup. One threw his empty sugar packet into the teacup, the other snapped his plastic stirrer in half and also set it in his cup as if a tombstone. The first wiped his mouth with the paper napkin, the other signalled for the bill. They each paid half, stood up and shook hands without any cupping of arms around the shoulder. As they rose to leave, the waitress scooped up their cups and gave a cursory swipe over the table with her cloth. 


Icy Sedgwick said...

It's quite a sad way for a reunion to end, but it's up to them if they want to continue to live on the periphery or not.

Stephen said...

I agree with Icy. Some people never seem to engage, and it seems so because they can never get beyond themselves. That line on not caring about the other speaks volumes. They're too comfortable in their own world to expand into the real world.

Cindy Vaskova said...

I suppose everyone has had this sort of random, unexpected reunion and went on with it for the sake of a brief reminiscent feeling, then sort of backed out of it uncomfortably, remembering how this person isn't the buddy from school. What's scary is how one can come to realize he wasn't anyone's buddy either, just sort of living in the margins of it all as you so well portrayed here. Is it too late for them?

Sonia Lal said...

A lonely existence for them both.

Katherine Hajer said...

This had a post-war feel to it -- I could imagine reading it in an anthology and flipping the page to find a Hemingway as the next story, or maybe Elizabeth Bowen. Relatively cheerful, even :-)