Monday, October 9, 2017

company of story-tellers

There are two photos in my wallet, me aged 13 and 15. They would see that when I bought them coffee or tea. I would point at one photo and say, that was my twin brother. Was, they asked. He died in a train accident, I would say to the company in the train. What type of accident, he or she would ask. He went to the pantry and never came back, I would say and then stare at the passing scenery as if I was holding back tears. I would not say more. That was enough.

Are you married, they asked me. Divorced and a widower, I replied. Oh, they exclaimed and sat back unsure. I would wait for their prompt. The uncomfortable would joke about divorcing after death. The concerned would say sorry. I would wait patiently for their preference. Most liked to hear about the divorce, only a few about the death. Only once did I try a mystery about death during divorce. It wasn't very convincing.

The last time I was on a train, I did not have to say much. There were two men, one in his mid-twenties, the other in his forties. One was a doctor, the other in IT, I forget which. I remember thinking that they ticked all the boxes as far as stereotypes were concerned. But I remember little else about them. They talked to each other but they treated me as the wise one, kept looking at me as if they were seeking my approval.

The twenty-something talked about a wedding that didn't happen. His ex-fiancee sexted him from her friend's phone and he had flirted back with the then unknown sender. She got onto a moral platform and sent him packing, he said. He should not have smiled then. A blank face would have kept us guessing.

No smartphones in my time but a clunky landline did the job, the forty-year-old said. I was actually ready for that call, in those days every guy expected such a call the day before his wedding, he recollected. And paused. It was too obvious a dramatic pause. He continued, the anonymous caller told me that there is a mole on my wife's upper right thigh. And there it was, he said. I should have looked at the percentages, 50% would have it or not have it, 50% of that would have it on right or left, he calculated. He should not have. When you get your math wrong, the story loses effect. This guy was nearly wailing by then, as a boy I couldn't cycle, I couldn't even whistle, and there I was a married man, and I couldn't do you-know-what. He was laying it really thick. I thought of slapping him. But, the twenty-year old seemed impressed.

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