5 August 2011

The Kindest Person in the World

I was walking down the promenade, the wind gently caressing my face like an eager lover and I couldn’t imagine anything going wrong this evening. Andrew was waiting home for me and I’d just gotten a new haircut. I was anxious for him to see it. There’s not much going for me and I never did understand why he’d decided to settle for a girl like me. But one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and besides, even though he’d never specifically told me what he saw in me that he liked I somehow suspected he’d had enough of this alleged intelligentsia and the constant intellectual bickering with his previous artsy and scholarly wives. I was content to live on the sidelines of history and that seemed to be enough for him. It was getting dark and the ancient stones under my feet were hard enough to emit a loud crack every time I put one of my feet on the ground.

“Rosie,” I heard someone say behind me and at first I decided to ignore it. I was rather anxious to get home and it was probably just one of my long-forgotten friends who’d decided to get in touch with me now that she’d seen whom I had gotten married to. “Rosie, wait, please,” I heard and I couldn’t recognize the voice. That filled me with both fear and a sense of relief at the same time. It wasn’t someone I knew so I likely wouldn’t be subjected to annoying questions about my present life, but I couldn’t imagine what a stranger who knew me might want. In any case, I slowed my pace and then came to a halt. I slowly turned around and I immediately recognized the staggering skinny figure. It was Jenny.

“How do you know me, Jenny?” I asked.
“I could ask you the same question, but I guess you saw my picture in Andrew’s apartment. I discussed you with Andrew once while we were still together and he showed me the picture of you he kept in his wallet, to answer you.”
“I see,” I replied. I didn’t like her. From what I heard I always pictured her demeanour to be of a highly unpleasant type. And she was my husband’s former wife. There was a natural rivalry among us. Still, I felt a bit sorry for her. Seeing her so obviously drunk in public I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was part of the cause for it. I surmised I was, so I made a conscious attempt to be kind to her. “Excuse my rudeness, what can I do for you?” I inquired.
She smiled. “I like you, Rosie.” I think I probably blushed a bit, but her giving compliments to me didn’t make me forget she probably had a request.
“Thank you,” I said. “But you haven’t answered my question. What can I do for you?”
She appeared uncomfortable at the prospect of saying anything so I gave her a reassuring smile to encourage her. She appeared to get the hint, so she spoke. “Could you tell me where you and Andrew live? I know it’s probably not appropriate for me to see him ever again, but there’s this matter I direly need to discuss with him.”
The question came as a small shock. Why would she want to see him again? And what did she want to discuss? “What is this about?”
“I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t tell you. It’s very personal.” She appeared very uncomfortable. I knew I was probably making a huge mistake, but seeing her this drunk and desperate and sorry I didn’t have the heart to turn her down.
I slowly nodded my approval. “We don’t live far from here. Just walk with me, we’ll be there in no time.”

“When we get there, would it be too much to ask you to wait outside for five or ten minutes?” she asked.
“Is that necessary?” I wanted Andrew to see me.
“Please, it would mean a lot. I would forever be in your debt.”
“Fine, I suppose I can give you ten minutes,” I reluctantly said.
“Thank you, Rosie,” she smiled. “You’re a very kind human being.”
“I try to be,” I replied, thinking I’d made a mistake.

“So, you know Andrew, right?” she said.
“I think I do, yes,” I answered.
“Have you ever seen one of his temper tantrums?”
“No, not really.” Why was she bringing this up? He didn’t have them anymore.
“Forgive me for saying so, but then you don’t know him all that well,” she said.
“Perhaps it’s you who doesn’t know him anymore,” I replied. For some reason she was becoming openly antagonistic. Or maybe she was just too drunk to choose her words with any measure of restraint.
“Yes, well, I suppose that can also be true,” but I saw she didn’t mean it. “In any case, we’re off topic.”
“I agree. Why did you ask me about temper tantrums?”
“I’ve always had this unconscious ability to bring out the worst in him. I fear he’s going to get mad with me when we talk.”
“Why would you want to talk to him, then?” She made little sense.
“It’s a really important matter. I have to risk it.” She blankly stared at the house near the end of the road. “You live here?”
“Yes, we do. Andrew bought it last month,” I said.
“I like it. It suits him.” I nodded. “Anyway, before we get there, I have just one more request for you.”
I slowly rolled my eyes. “What is it?”
“Oh, it’s nothing much. I just wanted to ask you to try to hold him back when you get in after ten minutes if he’s mad. Just prevent him from hitting my legs. I’d hate to get bruises. Getting them on my arms is fine, just try to make him avoid the legs.”
I was shocked at her matter-of-fact request. But surely Andrew would never hit anyone. “Did he ever hurt you while you were married?” I asked, a hint of disbelief in my voice.
“No, he didn’t. He was close to it a few times during his rage, but he never did.”
“Why the request, then?” I was genuinely confused.
“Just because,” she said with a certain finality in her voice. I didn’t want to force her into saying anything, so I likewise remained silent. We got to the front door.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll go inside,” she said.
“Fine. He’s probably in the study. The second door to the left.” She stepped in and I stayed outside.

I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I couldn’t avoid my curiosity and went to sit under the window of his study to listen in on the conversation. I knew the guilt would be almost overwhelming, but I wanted to know why she’d talked about his tantrums and violence and what this great matter was. I felt entitled to knowing these things. Andrew was my husband, not hers. I heard him typing on his typewriter when there was a knock on the door.
“Is that you, Rosie?” Andrew asked. “You know you don’t have to knock.” I heard the door squeak.
“No, it’s me, Jenny,” she spoke.
“What? What are you doing here? And where’s Rosie? She’s supposed to be home already.”
“She told me where you live. She’s waiting outside.”
“Why would she do that?”
“I think it’s because she’s a genuinely good human being,” Jenny said. I felt very much ashamed at listening to them. It proved I wasn’t good in any meaningful way.
“Yes, she is, isn’t she? That’s what I like about her,” Andrew drifted off, then continued with a stern voice: “Why are you here?”
“I know you said we should never see each other again,” she replied with an apologetic tone, “but I have a request to make of you.”
“Why? What gives you, of all people, the capacity or the right to barge into my life after what you did and make requests?” He sounded angry.
“I’m sorry, Andrew, I know I shouldn’t have, but I can’t help myself. Ever since we’ve been apart I’ve felt like there is a part of me missing. It’s you, but I can’t have you, I know that, so I’d like something belonging to you.”
“And what might that be?” he asked cautiously.

“I want a child.” There was a moment of silence. I understood now why he’d want to hit her. I wanted to hit her. How dare she ask something like that? But still I felt sorry for her and was waiting to leap inside and stop him from doing her too much harm. Then there was a loud thumping sound. I peeked inside and saw his palm reflected on her cheek. She stared at him in adoration and he was standing in front of her in utter disbelief. I remained outside.

To my complete shock I heard Andrew say: “Fine, I’ll give you a child. But I’m married now, so no-one must ever find out about this. And there must be no sex involved.” She gasped in ecstasy. I attempted to suppress my scream of horror and did so.
“Of course, it will remain between us.” I wanted to go in and stop them, but how could I? They would know I’d been listening to them this whole time and I couldn’t risk Andrew’s affection for me. So I buried my face into my palms and silently wept to the sound of Andrew’s heavy breathing.

When he was done she courteously said “Thank you.” and they parted ways without another word spoken. I ran to the front door and I wiped my tears. By the time she stepped outside I put on a face of extreme boredom that seemed to brighten when I saw her.
“You’re the kindest person I’ve ever met,” she said. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” I lied. She started to walk away.
“Farewell, Rosie.” We’d never see each other again, I knew.
“Farewell, Jenny,” I said. Then I went in to show Andrew my new haircut.

Rk. Aljoša Šorgo, 29. 7. 2011

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