“No, not today. Please”
He spoke the last word with effort but with a greater emphasis. He thought of his wife back home and of himself. She was probably anticipating his arrival. He wouldn’t be going back, not today. He was indisposed, feeling weak. They couldn’t force him to leave the comfort of his lodgings. He had told them he was poor in health. No one was devoid of these kinds of days. No one could boast of perfect health.
“I am sorry but I cannot make it today.”
He repeated the phrase until he tired himself listening to his voice continuously repeating the same. It was alright. The fever had commenced yesterday evening. Resting was the solution.
“No, I didn’t go to the doctor.”
What for? His ailment had no cure. He didn’t need a doctor. What could any doctor say, except expose his lies?
“I will be better tomorrow”
The cough was remarkably realistic, the underlying hoarse tones of his voice as well. The plan was smoothly executed. In a couple of days they would meet again, everything would jump back to normality. Insistence hadn’t worked on their part. At least not for him. A sigh of relief. He was now alone. His mission, achieved.
Ah! His wife. He was sure she felt his rightful place was at her side. The bothersome rules of a constrained society! Perhaps at this hour she was carelessly checking her phone for new notifications, or gently tucking the baby to sleep. He groaned aloud when he remembered the newborn. If he could materialize his annoyance, if he could point at the source of his vexation, his offspring would be the first named. He chuckled. This conception was almost cruel. Yet he couldn’t soothe the sentiment of aloofness towards those whom nature had assigned as flesh of his flesh. What flesh? If he barely believed in the heart that was his by divine right? No, returning to his house was inconceivable. He wanted no formalities, no fictitious words of love. Not even the remembrance of sensual passion could stir the impulse of flying to his nest.
While lost in these meditations, he heard a knock at his door.
Yes, it was him! It had to be him! Who else if not him?
The familiar cough at the other side of the wall. On his way to open the door, he blankly stared at himself in the mirror, caressing his clean shaved features. He smiled a smile of contentment, and felt the acute pain of Dorian Gray, his reflection smiled back, a covenant to his youth and beauty.
A long brotherly embrace immediately greeted him. Man to man. Brother to brother.
“It is all overwhelming”, he managed to say. The profound honeyed eyes gazed back at him, full of understanding and kindness.
“All hail to thee, Stephen!”
The young man proceeded to settle himself on the seat of a chair, allowing his figure to be seen by everyone present. He was served a glassful of wine and gestured to everyone to join him. Half drunk already, he managed to seize the attention of those present. Even those that weren’t part of their assembly turned to observe the forthcoming events, amused. He cleared his throat and with a high pitched laugh initiated his speech.
“We are here today, to celebrate the very distinguished existence of our much loved friend and comrade, Stephen. At twenty eight years of age, Stephen undoubtedly resembles and personifies the man we all aspire to become. Handsome, intelligent, talented, courageous, rich and fun!”
“Our one and only Giacomo Casanova!” chimed in one voice, a voice soon lost amidst the deafening hurrahs and olés that joined in with the elocution.
“The perfect friend, the greatest sportsman of all time, the most eligible bachelor!”
For Stephen, the thought of his wife altered for some minutes the harmony of this event, but like a distant vision disappeared with the continuous cheering. He knew she knew today was his birthday, she also knew he had deliberately chosen to spend it with friends. Was he going to sacrifice himself for her sake?
The young man who was speaking found his voice again, and he raised his tone. His physical stability was now being affected by the blurred images that presented themselves to his eyes. The alcohol was draining his energy while propelling his desire for more.
“Three hurrahs for Stephen!”
“Bring more wine, bring more beer!”
The felicitations were the immediate response of those surrounding him. Stephen could not help a smirk, and though his soul was enveloped in agonized misery, his heart leapt happily with the feigned humbleness, with the sense of importance, his superiority. His diligence was warmly welcomed, as he incorporated and became one, locked in an atmosphere of festivity. Before long he was conversing, laughing, drinking, scanning the area, speculating whether fortune was on his side that night.
The fact that I had just one close friend was an utterly terrifying reality for me. I had not given the woman I had chosen for marriage a chance to know me, and I concealed myself with the cloak of dissimulation, a guise, locking the door that allowed entrance to my innermost thoughts. It was a choice. And I had little right to complain. The irony was that friends weren’t scarce in my life. For someone not devoid of wealth and good looks, and a declared exhibitionist, people of all walks of life were always bound to cross my path. The epitome of sociability. And in those people I was fortunate enough to procure myself with a myriad of friends and lovers, and agreeable acquaintances. I was worshiped and loved, or at least that is what I believed, and took for granted. I despised and mocked the concept of “best friends”. Who needed them, anyways? If I ever thought I could figure out life on my own, I can now see how mistaken this assumption was. Once the hustle of routine, of speeding feet, of laughs and sighs, evolved into the soothing silence of nightfall, I unearthed my inner self, my secluded self, from the depths of my being. And when I find myself alone I am terrified, and while shrouded in that fear I am comforted. I try not to think but to be. Yet these moments barely last enough. I resort back to him, to my friend. My friend with the caramel eyes, brimming with kindness and understanding.
What have I become? Oh God, who is Stephen?
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.