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|Ramonez's recent Blog entry. ||The Chair ( 2505 reads) ||Tuesday, June 14, 2011 (08:53:00)|
|I haven’t seen my friend for a very long time. I call him ‘my friend’ because we’d only met once, and I had forgotten his name.|
“Eight months is a bloody long time,” he said with a nod. I couldn’t make out if it had been a nod of approval— that he actually meant he enjoyed being on the road for two thirds of the year, or if had been a gesture to emphasize the fact that he couldn’t believe he spent only four months a year at home. He was a decent bloke, or so I remembered him, so I assumed the latter to be true— that he was disappointed to be away from his family for most part of the year, probably birthdays, Christmas, and New Year included. Then again, I couldn’t have known that he was married or not, if he had any children, a little piece of information that I didn’t consider at the time; I guess you just expect people to be either married or divorced after such a long time.
I was relieved when he said that; it sounded like he had a family somewhere and that he missed them. Subconsciously, perhaps, it was what I wanted to believe in order to confirm my assumption that he hadn’t changed. It didn’t cross my mind at that exact moment, as I’ve mentioned; I haven’t seen him for ages. People change.
He stared into his glass as if a disease-carrying insect had just landed in his whiskey and got its wings in a tangle. “I hate airports. I hate flying, for Chrissakes.” He didn’t look up from his glass when he leaned over the bar counter; his eyes like microscope lenses analyzing the ‘deadly virus’.
“Hey, turn it down, would you?’ he said to the barmaid who cupped her hand behind her ear. Maybe he had seen her reflection in his ice, maybe he had excellent peripheral vision, or maybe he was just plain expecting her to act in that manner because the CNN weather forecast jingle was so loud, “Exactly! Turn. Down. The. Volume,” he said again, not making eye-contact, “My friend and I are trying to have a quiet drink over here. I haven’t seen him in over twenty years. I’m boarding in a few minutes, and then you can turn that shit up again.”
An elderly couple at the end of the bar turned their heads like a pair of robots straight out of an Asimov story; it was obvious from the man’s raised eyebrows and the woman’s pin-striped lips that they didn’t approve of my friend’s language. Their eyes screamed damnation and their double chins vibrated as they said silent prayers for my friend’s (and probably my) soul. I could’ve been mistaken, of course; they might have been staring through the observation window at a plane landing or taking off while chewing on the crushed ice in their vodka and cream sodas. Maybe they really wanted to know what the weather was like – after all, they were traveling somewhere – and that they were pissed at the barmaid for giving in to my friend’s rather rude request to turn down the TV volume. Anyway, they had that anyone-standing-in-the-Lord’s-path-shall-be-destroyed-by-his-mighty-hand kind of look to them.
Muffled laughter bubbled from witin the smoking room next to the bar.
My friend and I met during our last term at high school. It had also been my last year of playing rugby; I had hurt my knee two years previously, and at the age of eighteen had already developed a slight, but obvious limp. I went to a boys’ school, and we used to go on rugby tours at least twice a year. The following year those schools we had visited would come to us, and so on. That’s how I met my friend; I stayed with him and his mother on my final rugby tour.
I sensed immediately that my friend and his mother were struggling financially the day they picked me up at the railway station— let me just make it clear that it had been an observation, and that I wasn’t judging. I didn’t exactly come from a wealthy home myself. As I said, it was obvious— none of the other parents talked to my friend or his mother; there were a few what-the-hell-is-she-doing-here smiles, a couple of look-at-the boy’s-clothes whispers that were carried through the air on trays of railway station smells, and more than a few get-away-from-the poor-people shuffles.
My friend’s blazer was faded, the sleeves too short. His legs poked out of his washed-out grey shorts like used take-away chopsticks someone had inserted into a sweet-and-sour-stained Styrofoam box.
His mother had once been a stunning woman (she made a point of showing me her wedding photos at dinner) but hard times had found a way under her skin and made her look older than she was, like someone who’d been smoking and drinking hard liquor for too long. She was pale, the skin over her bones almost translucent; the veins in her cheeks sitting there like faded escape-map prison tattoos. She looked ill and frail; images of a Barbie doll that had been left in a fishpond for a few days flashed through my head.
Her husband, I learned later that evening, had been a mechanic for the railways but lost both legs in a freak accident while working on a train. I asked if he was all right. Not exactly the kind of sympathetic question that pops into your head when someone tells you their husband/father had lost both legs. Needless to say, an uncomfortable silence weighed down the aroma of steak and kidney pie, almost forming an extra crust over the piss-yellow dinner table cloth. My friend gave his mother a nod — that nod — almost as if to say It’s all right, Ma. He looks like he can handle it.
“Can I tell you something?” my friend asked. I was about to turn my gaze away from the elderly couple when the man got up and slammed a few coins down on the bar counter. He gave us a dirty look, buttoned up his Hawaiian shirt over his vest, and walked away; the soles of his rubber sandals were squeaking over the polished floor, a perfect voice-over for CNN weatherman who pretended to look very serious when he pointed at Japan on the weather map with what looked like a bamboo cane, and announced that a typhoon was approaching.
The woman flung her bag over her shoulder, and knocked over her glass. When she got up, one of her high heels caught the leg of the bar stool, and she fell forward. The way in which she recovered, however, was impressive; she was heading for a face-plant, arse-over-head — it was inevitable given the fact that she was what one would consider as a little top heavy — when she just lifted her head and, with a perfect straight back, got to her feet with the grace of a cat. She looked back and said something to the barstool in a language I didn’t understand, and limped, very un-cat-like, over to where her husband was standing.
He was leaning forward, staring through the smoking room window. His nose touched the glass, and for a second he looked like a street magician who was about to raise his legs and hover there, arms outstretched. There were two backpackers inside the smoking room; they quickly stubbed out their cigarettes and made for the departure gate.
“What flight are you on again?” I asked, trying not to sound rude but making a right hash of it. I felt my cheeks redden because there had been truth in my voice; I didn’t want to listen to his story. I wanted him to catch his plane and get out of my life. We had nothing in common, after all. Our friendship was in the past.
My friend’s mother didn’t have a bite to eat— there wasn’t even a plate in front of her; only a glass of cold water with a slice of lemon floating on the surface. She just sat there and watched us. Now and again she would put her middle finger into her glass and push the slice of lemon this way and that. Her red nail polish was flaking off, some of it getting stuck in the flesh of the lemon like rusted shrapnel. I started to feel uncomfortable, and the dining room chair was digging into the small of my back. She must’ve read my mind because I was going to ask if she wasn’t having dinner when she said she wasn’t hungry and that we, my friend and I, needed all our strength for the game the next day.
That’s when she brought out her wedding photos. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a secret compartment under the table because I hadn’t seen her carry the photo album at any point up to that stage. I actually felt for it, but only got a splinter in the middle finger of my right hand.
Some of the photos were loose in the photo album sleeves, and two of them actually fell out when she opened the album. One came to rest facedown next to the leg of her chair at the head of the table; there was something scribbled on the back— a date and a few words if memory serves me right, but I couldn’t make out what it said. The other photo fell into my friend’s plate. I could only catch a glimpse of it, really, because his mother snatched the picture away as quickly as it had slipped out of one of the plastic photo album sleeves; it was a picture of a chair, a black leather chair with leather straps attached to the armrests and the footrest— it looked exactly like an electric chair, or some grotesque torturing device, which, I suppose, is what the electric chair is essentially.
My friend’s mother stared at the photo for a second and placed it facedown in front of her. She looked at her right hand where some of my friend’s pie stuck to her fingers; she sighed and licked it off. She picked up the chair picture and stuffed it into the back of the photo album.
My friend leaned over to pick up the other photo beside his mother’s chair, but she placed a firm hand on his arm, and he sat back.
My friend’s mother sat up straight and wiped her hands on her dress. She smiled, and then rubbed her hands together before going through the wedding photos. Careful not to damage them, she removed them one by one and held them up in her right hand like a perfect picture frame of glistening fingertips and chipped nails. For each picture she had a comment and a shy smile; my friend nodded and tapped me on the shoulder now and again, mainly because I think he wanted me to say something but I couldn’t; all the pictures were blank and I couldn’t hear a thing they were saying because my ears were ringing and the veins under my friend’s mother’s skin were bulging and moving up and down like puppet strings controlling lips.
My friend looked up from his whiskey glass, I realized, for the first time in what felt like ten minutes. It could’ve been three or four minutes; airports have a strange way of dragging out time, like faceless menaces that can pull out endless strings of chewing gum from lipless mouths, and shape it anyway they like. He pulled his sleeve up over his wrist, exposing a golden Rolex. I wanted to say You must be doing well these days, but thought better of it; that was inviting conversation, and I just wanted to get away from him as soon as I could.
“Looks like I’m going to miss this flight,” he said, pulling the sleeve back over the face of the watch, “Fortunately no worries there; the company I work for buy these … flexi-tickets, I think they call them. I’ll just give my secretary a ring later on, and hop on another flight.” He paused, and then said, “Where are my manners? How about you? What time is your flight again?”
I wanted to say Now and get the hell out of there, but I had already told him that I was going to Berlin, and the flight departure times were being screened on a huge LCD right behind me above my head. “Plenty of time,” I said, trying to hide the disappointment in my voice.
“Then I can tell you this … story, right? I’ve never mentioned this to a soul,” my friend continued.
I was starting to feel nauseous, “Sure.” I said, not entirely certain I had a say in the matter. He was about to speak when I held up my hand, gesturing for him to give me a moment. I ordered another whiskey, either mulling over my decision to lend an ear, or hoping that, in the five-and-a-half seconds it took the barmaid to pour my drink that my friend would forget what he was going to say.
As soon as my whiskey hit the bar counter, and as soon as the cheap cardboard coaster slurped up the moisture on the outside of my glass, he started talking.
“Four years ago I was sitting exactly where you are sitting now.”
“Okay. Not in the exact same chair, I hope. It’s quite uncomfortable.” I said, trying to break the ice a little. His voice had started to take on a dark tone, as if it didn’t belong to him, and I didn’t like the way he was looking at me, only the whites of his eyes visible under his thinning brows bringing out the green of the veins in his cheeks. He frightened me a little; there were dark rings under his eyes which hadn’t been there before, and it looked like his goatee was growing an inch or two every time he opened his mouth.
“The exact same chair.”
“Surely in four years’ time someone must’ve moved around a chair or two?” I cleared my throat, “A cleaner, perhaps? A customer?” I couldn’t exactly place my finger on it, but I was starting to feel uncomfortable, not only because the chair was digging into the small of my back.
“The chair eats you in the small of the back, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“Go on, lift up the cushion and put your hand in; there’s a little surprise for you— with love from my mother.”
The overhead Toilets sign stood out like a stiff arm. I wondered who had gone through all the trouble to put in a pink bulb for the ladies’ sign when everything else was illuminated blue: the little man, the handicapped sign, and the lettering.
I discarded the pink-bulb-thought immediately and focused on the task at hand: getting myself and my wheelchair-bound arse over to the bar as soon as possible. I was thirsty, and there was talk that one of the most devastating typhoons in decades had hit Japan only moments before— the weatherman’s shrill-pitched voice echoed through the empty departure hall.
I checked that I had pulled up my zip and that there weren’t any piss-stains on my trousers; the first thing people do when they see a handicapped person in a wheelchair is to look at his legs (or whatever’s left of them). Then, having realized that it’s probably not the best way to make a first impression, they avoid eye-contact and stare at the crotch. I honestly don’t know which is more embarrassing, and for who?
Like pigs being slaughtered, my rubber wheels squealed over the polished floor, a perfect voice-over for the TV reporter who was standing on a rubble-strewn landscape where one of the walls of an apartment building had collapsed. Behind her two rescue workers had pulled out and were helping up an elderly couple from under a corrugated iron roof sheet. The woman had on only one high heel shoe, and her husband’s Hawaiian shirt was ripped to pieces and bloody; it looked like he was wearing beef strips.
The footrest of my wheelchair hit the bar counter. The barmaid must’ve been telepathic or something because I was going to ask her to turn down the volume when her arm shot out, straight as an arrow with a remote-controlled head; she pressed the mute button. I ordered a whiskey and asked her to bring it over to the table. She nodded and avoided eye-contact.
I turned around and wheeled myself to the table nearest the observation window. Like the neon lights of some Southeast Asian red light district, the departure times on the LCD screen flashed over the glass table top. I slipped my hand into my jacket and took out an envelope. I didn’t have to open it to know what was inside; I traced the outlines of the two photographs with my thumb nail and pushed the envelope in under the cushion of the chair facing the observation window. My wheels squealed again as I went around and parked myself on the opposite side of the table.
The lift doors next to the smoking room opened and a man wearing a pin-striped suit emerged. He looked agitated and kept looking at his watch. I knew his face but had forgotten his name.
“Barmaid,” I said, “You’d better make that two.”
The March of the Pigs (The Politician II)
A godlike grimace -
ice and crystal are old friends;
Cower before you?
With your plastic charisma?
Because I am poor?
Clean moral fiber
(I see you frown at my words)
you do not possess;
your necktie askew,
your thin hair ruffled by drink,
sir, you are a pig.
A cunning bastard,
but transparent as your glass;
abattoir blades snigger
as they cut through you,
your belly blubber splattered;
ice on your collar. Rate this Poem
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