A short story written as part of the Summer Prose Competition 2011 Challenges 3 and 4
It had taken David more than six months to recover completely from the car crash. He had been advised strict bed rest by his doctor, who was unable to fathom how David had managed to come out alive from the coma. With his mother helping him through the nightmares and the physiotherapy sessions, he had been able to return to some semblance of normalcy. His mother had moved into his home upon his tearful and apologetic insistence and was now bringing him back from the dead.
He was still troubled by the happenings of that fateful night, often breaking out into a sweat or thrashing his limbs while asleep. His nightmares may have receded but David hadn’t forgotten the lesson that the incident had taught him. He couldn’t be sure whether he had imagined the motel and its hideous owner, but he was certain that it had been a life-altering sequence of events. His procrastination and careless had spoiled many of his relationships. Friends, family, and acquaintances-he had been dismissive of them all in the face of professional glory.
He had lost touch with most of his friends and distant relatives. He hardly knew where anyone was or what they were up to. His mother hadn’t been of much help either because of her social segregation from the community. Even that was attributable to him.
Having recovered from the physical wounds and, to some extent, the mental scars, David had tried valiantly to regain his lost life. He had tried every avenue to contact his friends and cousins. Some had responded immediately, others had been more reticent. However, what irked David most was that he had been unable to make contact with his best friend, Jeff.
David and Jeff had been the best of friends since Kindergarten. Living on the same lane, going to the same school, the two had been inseparable for most of their early life. They had even been accepted to go to the same college but Jeff had decided to take an year off. Despite this minor setback, their friendship had soared high.
Keeping in regular touch, the two friends had shared their life with each other completely. David had no sibling but he had never felt the absence of one, with Jeff by his side. They had been honest and open with one another. David’s first girlfriend, his first heart break, the one night he spent in jail, Jeff knew all about it. David was the first to know when Jeff lost his virginity, and when he tried his first snort of coke while travelling with some hitch hikers. The two were as different as day and night, yet their bond grew stronger by the day.
However, somewhere through the years, the phone calls had trickled down in number, the messages left on voicemail had become stilted, and the meetings had become non-existent. David didn’t have time for anybody or anything apart from his job. He had no girlfriends, no work friends, no close family that he wanted to keep in touch with. He had even sent his mother to a high-end retirement home and himself shifted base to one of the upcoming swanky neighbourhoods uptown.
Status symbols, bank balance, market credibility-these were the only relationships that David cared about or maintained. His rise to the top was escalated and steep. He was the youngest Vice-President in his company’s history. His personal clients featured in the Forbes Most Powerful, and Time’s Most Influential annual lists. His reputation was one to reckon with and he was one of the few people who was always on everyone’s invitee’s list.
During the day, David was a trailblazer. But sometimes, deep into the night, he felt the keen loss of his previous life like a physical blow. He longed for the conversations he had with Jeff, the carefree pleasures of college life, the hot and heavy affairs with pretty girls, the bond he had shared with….He never allowed himself to dwell on her name too much because it was too painful. Whenever his thoughts meandered in that direction, he always switched it off.
But those nights when he cursed his thoughtlessness in maintaining his relationships were few and far between. David was too busy with his glamorous life to dwell too much on the past. It was a sore point, but nothing could ease the dull pain better than a multi-billion dollar deal.
David’s life, in his estimation, was perfect. That was till that fateful accident. It had forced him to look closely not only at his physical frailty but also at the emotional upheaval going on inside him which he chose to ignore most of the time. But since then, David had made major changes in his life. Bringing his mother back into his life was his biggest achievement. He had never thought she’d forgive his callousness. But she had. And this had given him hope. Hope that maybe he’d be able to mend more bridges, win back more people and convince them to stay in his life.
He had slashed his working hours to an acceptable number, his happiness no longer depended on his work appraisal, and he took out more time for himself and his mother. He had been trying to get in touch with Jeff, even planning to go to his old house. His own mother behaved very anxiously whenever Jeff was discussed, and more often than not, excused herself from the conversation. David even questioned her once or twice but to no avail.
David finally visited Jeff’s parents’ house, the one which stood across the street from his own. Looking longingly at it, he could see that it was more a home now than it had ever been. A young family had moved into his old space, and the front lawn bore witness to that fact. A broken tricycle, a basketball hoop, a swing set, and a dog’s miniature kennel were clearly visible from where David stood.
However, the place that held his attention the most was the house across from his own. Jeff’s. David had been waiting to come here since he had regained consciousness. His yearning felt like a physical companion, and was beside him again while he walked over to the house. It wore a run-down look but still reminded David of the times he had spent in the basement, or in Jeff’s room, or in their kitchen where his mother had made the most amazing cookies. A sudden wave of nostalgia washed over him and his knees nearly buckled under it.
He walked to the door, a little ragged now than before, and pressed the doorbell. The peal of delight which resounded from it was in some ways similar to the elation that David was feeling. However, this peal, and his elation, soon faded when there was no response from inside. He pressed the bell again, this time even more insistently, but the result was the same. There was nobody inside.
Disappointed, agitated and angry, David walked back to his car, kicked at the front wheel and let off a string of expletives. He drove back to his apartment in a black mood, furious that he had not been able to do what he had been wanting most for such a long time. He felt like a failure. His mood didn’t improve when he saw his mother sigh with apparent relief when he narrated the incident to her. His confusion and anger both grew manifold at her reaction. He started to yell at her, but then checked himself in time.
“Mom, why don’t you want me to find Jeff? What did he ever do to you that you are so disapproving?” His unease and sadness knew no bounds as he grew more weary by the second and sat down heavily on the couch. “Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong? You knew they wouldn’t be home, didn’t you?”
Maureen could see the sadness brewing in her son’s eyes and couldn’t take it anymore. She told David that she had known for quite some time that Jeff’s family had moved from their old home to another city. As far as Jeff was concerned, she neither cared nor wanted to know where he was. Her callousness was a surprise to David and he couldn’t hide his agony at his mother’s attitude. “But he is my best friend, Mom. How can you be so indifferent about him? I know you loved him like a son. Then why this hatred?”
Maureen only gave a short and stilted reply, ”He’s no son of mine. No son of mine would do what he did.”
“What did he do? Oh, come on, Mom. Tell me.”
“I’m not saying another word about him, David. He has no place in my life, or my son’s.”
“But he does. You know I’m looking for him, Mom. Just tell me what you know. Please. For my sake.”
Moved by his impassioned pleas, Maureen left the room and came back with a pink piece of paper. “He’s getting married, David. In two days. This is the address.”
David snatched the paper from his mother’s grasp and stared at it. It would take him the better part of two days to get to the place. “Married? Jeff is getting married and I wasn’t even invited. Why? What happened?”
“I don’t want you to waste anymore of your time on Jeff, son. I think it’s best if you left it alone. There is no use digging old graves.”
Maureen insisted that David forget about the whole thing and move on with his life. But David was more determined than ever to see Jeff. Questions were burning inside him, and he seethed with an anger he hadn’t known he’d ever feel for Jeff. Instead of being happy about his impending nuptials, David only felt betrayed that his friend hadn’t even thought to make him a part of the celebrations.
David packed an overnight suitcase, and made travel plans through his efficient secretary, Sally. He was ready to go in under an hour. It took him an hour only because his mother wouldn’t let him get ready in peace. She was not telling him anything, but kept insisting that he shouldn’t go to ‘the thing’. She even begged him to stay when he was nearly out of the door, but David wouldn’t listen. He needed to meet Jeff. He needed to see him.
The journey ravaged David to the core. He had never travelled in such haste before and the distance was too long to be comfortable. The sun went down twice while David was on the road, and this only meant one thing; that he was closer to Jeff.
Finally, David reached the address that was written on that pink piece of paper. It was a modest hotel in a modest part of the town. It was 3 PM and the place was teeming with people. David walked to the reception and asked for a Jeff Ronald. The lady behind the desk asked him if he was on the list, to which David suavely lied and said, “Of course I am. I am his best friend.”
“Then you better head to The Ballroom, Sir. ‘Coz that is where the reception is going on.”
David followed the lady’s hand directions and stood outside a huge room festooned with white and yellow roses and lilies. There were people dancing in the centre of the room, sitting in their chairs by the side, youngsters yelling and running around. The whole scene was a mess. And David loved every moment of it. He was certain that it was Jeff’s idea to hold the reception where there wouldn’t be any need for discipline and decorum. He could see the bride and groom’s table from where he stood, but didn’t have the guts to walk towards it. It seemed as if his determination had deserted him at the very moment when he needed it the most. It had been more than decade since he had seen Jeff, or heard his voice.
Just then, the crowd standing before the table parted, giving David a clear look at the people sitting there. Instead of looking at Jeff, David’s gaze was drawn to the woman sitting beside him in white. The bride. Jeff’s bride. And David was left reeling.
It was Anna. His Anna.