It was the last day of October when the gum-trees danced and I shivered in the sun.
The sun was, and still is, a most capricious benefactor. Nothing else could boast of a more innocent smile, of a warmer personality. They say that light reveals all things, but, I tell you, our sun is the greatest liar of them all.
I learnt this on the day that I was so forlorn and alone—on the last day of October. It was supposed to be a sunny day, and it was, except that it was not warm. It was cold and the wind raced around the garden over and over again. Why? Because the sun let it. The sun let the air cool. The sun refused to comfort me. The sun, in fact, fooled me.
The sun had been in good humour for the last few days. It had shone superciliously, granting paltry human beings, plants and animals the privilege of basking in its warmth, for which most of us were certainly very grateful. Some plants showed off with bright new leaves, while others adorned themselves with the fanciest flowers. The birds chirped new songs of happiness and thanks and all who dwellt in the land of the living grew and brought forth new life. The humans took up outdoor leisurely pursuits again and admired the great shows of their animal cousins and the plants, as they prepared for the scorching summer and Christmas—well, all except one.
I was an oddity, it will be said, a man who would have taken perverse delight at the victory of the cold winds had he not been so cold inside already. At this moment, I was sitting outside on the bench. It was painted with white and rimmed in blue. The sight was laughable: a broken man sitting outside on a bright, summer day on one of those picturesque benches one may find in a playground. I had ventured outdoors to find comfort in our blessed sun; receiving none, I stayed to torture myself. I liked to inflict—what is a pleasant way of putting it?—discomfort upon myself. I had an almost morbid obsession with suffering, however slight and in whatever form, and I was succeeding. It was almost fun, something I hadn’t had in a long time, cooped up in this rehabilitation centre by my wife, Janice. The physical cold never usually bothered me, but now each gust of wind on my skin only wrapped my heart in ice. It would never thaw and truly it hasn’t. I cried then, willing the sun to shine and assure me of the existence of joy, of love, of peace. It only blew cold air into my face.
It had been a warm, sunny day when I married Janice. I remember the look of joy in her hazel eyes as we kissed for the first time as husband and wife, the soft giggles and the overwhelming happiness I felt at the prospect of spending my entire life with her.
We were happy—or at least more happy than we are now. Our honeymoon was spent in Roman ruins, ancient libraries and wide, never-ending meadows in the English countryside; our home was in the Hills, where the air was often cooler and the smiles were often wider. (the honesty of countryfolk etc.) But I do digress. ‘Your mind is one of those nomads, Victor,’ Janice would say with an affectionate squeeze. She always was so caring.
Luke and I were best friends, more like brothers. It was a cliché. Where could I start? We had grown up as next-door neighbours (Stirling), went to school together (St. Peters), read Literature together (Adelaide) and worked together (ha-ha, nowhere). The only thing we hadn’t done together was marry, Luke being a committed bachelor and all, but he did try to make it up to me by being my best man. He was always so helpful, so kind. Why, the day before the wedding he took me to the fanciest restaurant in town, insisting it would be all on him, listened to my baseless—perhaps—worries about marriage without so much as a grimace and bought us tickets to the theatre to see Macbeth.
On the last day of my unmarried life, Luke and I were walking across the Parklands. We were laughing over some inside joke we had (I can’t repeat this as it concerns a particular professor of ours who always said “certainly”. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t that funny.) and I looked at Luke and my heart wrung for him. It was true that he was being very kind and attentive to me, but he had been somewhat in the dumps for the last few months and it was not hard to put two and two together. He had never had a girlfriend; people used to teasingly ask him to tell them which woman-repellent he wore. He would stoutly claim that he didn’t care for such things, and it made sense coming from him, Mr. Head-Stuck-In-The-Clouds. I even privately wondered if he was gay. But in recent times he always looked wistful whenever anybody announced an engagement or a wedding and I had begun to suspect that Luke the Genius was actually feeling quite lonely and unwanted. I decided, though, not to bring up the topic of his rejection by the female sex at the moment. It would only reinforce his sadness and inner gloom. I did, however, make a mental note to chat about it with him later, after the honeymoon, when things would return to a sort of normalcy and we would be lounging in his parents’ library. He covered up any discontent he felt quite well, though, smiling in his navy-blue polo shirt with those beige trousers that he was so wont to wear on scorching summer days. It was about as casual as he got. We were walking under the oak trees now, talking about where Janice and I were going for our honeymoon, though, I thought I saw his eyes glint sharply and his lips curl downwards. I wondered briefly about what it could be, but, as we stepped out of the shade and into the sun, I dismissed it as nothing, irrelevant. Luke was my best friend, always had been. He could not be stuck in the dumps for long, and the sooner he realised that marriage would not take me away from him, the better.
I sighed and stared out into space. None of the other patients were outdoors. It was all mine—but not. My life had been kicked about as if it were a tin can and callously too. What did I really have left?
I thought of Janice and wondered about the twins with a wince. I wondered if anybody read them their favourite bedtime stories now that their Daddy was crazy and locked up in rehabilitation. Janice had always believed the girls were too old for bedtime stories, and that if they couldn’t be bothered to read for themselves, they should simply count sheep.
Would I ever see them again?
The sun had not yet ceased taunting me, showing its face but hiding its warmth. It was then that I remembered the days when the sun tricked me with that façade of warmth and hope. What a fool I had been. What a fool.
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