On a Sunny Friday

In Issue 77 by Hardev Matharoo

Image
Photo by 지원 최 on Unsplash

I

It was good weather for May. People were lying in the park, wearing short-sleeved tops against all odds and calling it summer. You walk outside with a jacket out of habit and regret it twenty minutes later. You’ll sunbathe but you won’t wear sun cream because somehow it feels like the sun can’t hurt you. If you’re so inclined, you start thinking those romantic springtime thoughts, where you wonder what summer might be like and whether you will be happy because happiness seems a right when so many people are smiling in front of you. The flowers know it too. All of them have bloomed. Every tree is wearing its leaves. The clouds know their time is over. And through it all, only a foggy image of the winter remains in your head, when it was barren and cold, but sunny too. Peter, touched and moved by all these feelings, felt there was no better way to spend that sunny Friday than walking with Stacey Morden all afternoon.

Though they no longer worked together, they still met up every couple of weeks, usually at Peter’s initiation. Their usual activity was to take a long walk. Stacey was new to the area, and Peter took a great personal pleasure in showing her around. It was as if the great features of the neighbourhood, the pretty parks, the cosy pubs were a reflection of him, and he himself was somehow better because of it.

On that day Peter was more nervous than usual, but his nerves only came in flashes. Most of the day he was calm, dimly aware of his meeting in the way you might be about a dentist appointment that you mustn’t forget. Then suddenly, as if he’d only just learned about it, he’d remember what he’d promised himself to do, his heart would leap, and with some involuntary exclamation, he’d shoot up and move about, as though it might achieve something. Even when he saw her standing on the corner, with her usual pose, legs slightly apart, arms resting on her stomach, he thought nothing about his resolution. And yet something was different from the moment they started walking. Their conversation flowed in a way it hadn’t done before. Peter didn’t have to reserve himself. Topics which were only ever referred to obliquely were laid out in the open.

Peter didn’t normally visit this park but still pointed out its little details to Stacey, as though he had some great history with it. Its size always surprised him meaning there was lots to show her. There were ponds, an old pavilion which looked like a miniature manor house, a café and a small animal enclosure, its main selling point. This consisted of a large pen, marked out by a low wooden fence. Inside, little deer, not much larger than a pug or a cat, idled around, picking at grass.

“Whenever someone says ‘deer’ I imagine some great beast with antlers out here.” He put his fingers to his temples and pointed.

“You’re thinking of American deer.” She admonished him in the way you might do to someone who makes a crass joke.

“There’s something more impressive about the American ones.”

“But these ones are cuter.” She seemed to hug herself with her eyes alone.

Farther along was the goat pen. Peter, commenting on their cuteness, tried to catch the eye of one of them, as though it might do him a favour.

“You’ve never seen the baby ones they have in Europe,” and with a look halfway between pain and someone revelling in a delicious treat, she stretched out her hands to show how small these baby goats were.

“Imagine being a bird,” Peter said at the birdcage. “What would you do all day?”

“Fly and peck at worms,” Stacey replied. She followed one of the parrot’s eyes, smiling, seemingly saying:

“Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t understand.”

“Sounds like a grim life,” Peter said.

“Not if you’re a bird.”

Peter looked at her and she laughed.

“What?” she said. “You wouldn’t know any better, would you?”

“I don’t know – maybe the birds dream of a better life. Maybe they look at all of us from above, at our houses and roads and think that their nests are boring compared to ours.”

“They don’t have to pay rent though. Or worry about tax. And sometimes it’s better to not know, wouldn’t you say? When you learn about all those terrible things, you just feel worse about people.”

Peter found it hard to reconcile the word ‘terrible’ with everything in front of him. He could almost see these terrible people Stacey spoke about, criminals and all, and felt they must have some nobility to them because they were human too and capable of what he was feeling.

On the top of a little mound was a flower garden, each plot separated out by colour.

“Are they fake?” Peter asked.

“Why don’t you check?”

He sniffed one. It smelled sweet, rough and a lot, in some inexplicable way, like a memory.

“What about being a bee?” he asked. “Could you imagine that?”

“A whole life of smelling flowers. And stinging people too!” she added with a laugh.

“Sting and you’ll die.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “They only sting to protect their queen. They’re dying for a cause. For the right person, it might be worth it.”

He stopped and focussed on a bee, buzzing and humming around one of the flowers.

“They can’t smell the flowers, can they?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, more to herself, bending down to pick out a petal and put it in her pocket.

“What?” she laughed. Was he smiling?

“You’re keeping it?”

“I have a little book of things I like to keep. So now when I look at this petal, I’ll remember our walk.”

“If you didn’t have the flower, would you forget it?”

“Maybe,” she said, scrunching her cheeks.

“Why don’t you take some goat hair as a reminder too?”

“God, you’re such a child.”

“Or your boyfriend the parrot. Maybe a couple of his feathers?”

“I should take a couple of your hairs then. Because, you know, after this I’m never gonna see you again.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged with a mock nonchalance. “I just don’t really feel like it.”

“It’s because I insulted the parrot, isn’t it?”

“You said he had a boring life.”

“Why don’t you take a pair of antlers for your book, that would look nice.”

She was about to jab him in the side but didn’t. Instead, she gave him an impossible look, impossible to Peter, her face a symphony of joyful expressions.

When they passed the café, Peter wondered whether he should buy her a coffee and before he could understand where the idea came from, he remembered his promise. He looked down at his shoes and then up at the sky, the sun hurting his eyes.

“Ah that feels good, doesn’t it?” Stacey said, her eyes closed, arms extended, standing next to the fountain. Speckles of water danced across her face.

“Are you that hot?”

“I’m wearing a jacket, mind you.”

“Then take it off,” Peter said, smiling.

“It’s called an outfit, Peter,” she said, pretending to be offended at such a suggestion.

As they walked over to a shaded bench, their conversation altered in a subtle way which is difficult to document, proceeding from something very ordinary and circumstantial, to something more significant and probing. Their family lives where laid out, along with their old friendships and all the hard truths they had learned. Neither held back, and each one always had a question to ask or something to say. Peter saw how her eyes shone when she spoke, how one brow raised itself more than the other, how her hair framed them so well. She looked different, somehow. Everything she said seemed to transform her. Clearly, she was the same person, and yet it seemed to Peter as if he was now talking to someone related to Stacey, somehow connected to her, yet fuller and exuding a confidence that was almost unsettling. He remembered how shy she was when he’d met her, how she’d lower her eyes and retreat from abrasive customers or how when they’d first met, he had been the one to ask all the questions. Everything, from the movement of her eyes, the curl of her hair, the power and assuredness of her words, had created an aura around her Peter couldn’t quite explain, let alone understand, except for the fact that it made her all the more beautiful, like a flower which blooms and embraces rather than hiding away from the sun. Dogs approached them and sniffed at their feet. One rested its head on Peter’s leg which made Stacey frown with affection. At one point, a bright, turquoise spider landed in Stacey’s hair.

“Hang on,” he said, leaning over to remove it, remembering that nursey rhyme from when he was a child.

“Little miss Muffet... what is a tuffet anyway?”

He expected Stacey to panic but she was calm and smiled. Her hair was soft, and as he pulled the spider out, letting it scurry away, he remembered his resolution, looking at his feet, then at hers, then at her eyes which now seemed larger than normal.

“At the end,” he said to himself. That had always been his plan anyway. And then the conversation turned to relationships, sex, love, bringing with it all sorts of pregnant pauses and subtle allusions. At one point, she even said that people ought to be confident if they like someone and take the plunge by asking them out. He wanted to laugh at himself and the world, finding in it a kind of ironic sense of humour.

She began telling him some story about a boy she’d dated for a few weeks a couple of years before. Peter tried to picture him in his head. He gave him short brown hair, messy, with tanned skin, and then he thought of his own blond curls. How different was he to this person, whom he didn’t know, but who could look back on his life and say that he...

“Look!” she said as a parakeet flew past, looking somewhat like a flying pear. “I always found it strange that there are exotic birds in London.” And after a quick smile, she returned to her story. Peter had never discussed these things with her. She continued to grow as she spoke and every addition, every direct word or story made her shine brighter than she did before. Her gaze kept flitting between him and something off in the distance, perhaps the bird she had just seen, or the miniature manor house or maybe just the grass and the happy scene in front of her. Yet Peter’s eyes only followed hers. Had they always been that way or was there something different about them? And when he really looked at them, against the avenue of trees, the dogs running down the path, the birds chirping overhead, he had the strange thought that time could stop, and that happiness was very real, perhaps the only real thing we could feel, and that when we were happy, we believed we could do anything in the world. He wished that they might sit on that bench and talk forever, and it was only then that he realised it wasn’t just happiness that motivated him but fear. So long as they sat there with one another, his resolution remained in the future, and he could not be said to have failed. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t afraid of what she might say but rather of disappointing himself. What if he failed to do what he had resolved so firmly to do? What low opinion of himself would he hold then? How would he bear it?

“That’s a good thing,” he told himself, unsure if he believed it.

“Shall we walk back slowly?” Stacey suggested. Peter agreed. He had to. He didn’t want it to end, but she had said slowly...

The whole walk back Peter wanted to act natural, but the reality of everything began to overcome him. At the start of the walk, the future was infinite. The time would never actually come where he had to do what he’d set out to. Now the surroundings were morphing back to how they had begun. They’d passed the pharmacy, the Turkish restaurant, the obnoxiously coloured house – all things he had noted on the way there and which now served as omens for what was to come. “Time is running out,” the windows of the houses seemed to say, glaring down at him. “That ‘end’ point you spoke of is coming very soon.”

“But what’s going to happen?” he wondered, coming to no definite answer. In his head the future was still too vague to exist. He started coming up with reasons why he shouldn’t do it, but these weren’t reasons really, merely decoration for his fear. It was his habit to convince himself that the moment was not ideal. And still, he hadn’t formed a solid idea of what it would be like when the time came. Peter tried to stay as engaged with Stacey’s conversation as possible, but only managed short replies, his brain too stuffed with the reality of his resolution. Even his voice, to him at least, felt ashy and full. He would calm himself by noting that they had not yet passed the bridge over the railway line and so that meant he still had time. But what would time do? They would have to part at some point, and he would have to do it.

The sun spattered through the leaves. The air was hot. They approached her road. Peter was hoping for a red light, as if those extra few seconds would give him all the time he needed to figure everything out. They crossed. This was the point.

“Well, it was good to see you,” he said.

“You too!”

He extended his arms and hugged her. They had never hugged before. He squeezed her then pulled away, still holding onto her arms. The sun was shining through her hair. He sighed.

“I need to ask you something.”

II

By now the afternoon was golden. The biscuit-brown houses were made of syrup and the stucco fronts were like peach cream. People might say that city life is devoid of any kind of beauty because it has imposed on the natural world, but anyone there in that golden afternoon might easily reflect that nature is far too powerful a thing to be halted by the imposition of people, and that the natural world touches everything and everyone. The sky was still there. As were the clouds. You could hear birds, laughter and spot the occasional squirrel scurrying up a tree. And of course, there was Peter, who walking along the road, acknowledged and felt responsible for all these impressions, as though all the honeyed walls and swaying trees had been borne out of him, out of that peculiar feeling knotting itself in his chest.

There were, perhaps, all sorts of words to describe it, but none on their own expressed it perfectly and many were contrary to one another. Happiness had something to do with it, but so did sadness, confidence, embarrassment and power. Something about it made him shiver. When he remembered what he’d just done, so close and yet already so much like a distant memory, he had the compulsion to hum or snap his fingers, as if this might dissipate the thought. Ruminative to distraction he almost walked into a woman coming the other way.

“Sorry,” he said, and to his sizzled mind, her smile seemed to say:

“I know what you’ve just done and how you feel so I’ll forgive you.”

He wondered if the passers-by had heard him when he’d fulfilled his resolution; whether they had an opinion of it and were just choosing to pass by unaware. Looking at the houses, so familiar and accepted as the background to his life, he now found them oddly changed, as though his actions had altered them and the history of what he had done had seeped into their walls. They knew him, looked down on him, happily indifferent. He passed a pub he had once visited, a road his friend lived on, a street he’d once walked down drunkenly after a party – and now he walked down them in this new life of his. He passed a bus stop and saw a woman on her phone complaining to someone, and he wondered whether she had ever felt what he felt now.

“All of them have their own memories,” he thought. And yet, part of him maintained there was something impressive about the way he held his own, as if he were the only one to have done what he had done, and only he would walk down the street like he did, holding all those seemingly significant thoughts.

Within an hour he’d reached the City, full of men and women in suits, rushing about, so preoccupied with something. They reminded Peter of the bees in the park.

“For the right person it might be worth it...”

The dome of St. Paul’s had a dull glow and the glass fronts of the offices shone orange. Peter crossed the Millennium Bridge, making sure to turn back every so often so as not to miss out on any of the beautiful views.

Leaning against a railing, he looked out at the river. Below him were a couple drinking some sparkling wine. Behind him, some man was giving a busker a high five. To his left was a blonde woman in pink, also leaning on the rails like she was in a movie. What was she thinking about? So long did the two of them stand there that Peter half-expected her to start a conversation with him. She left without saying a word.

“What is Stacey thinking about now?” he wondered. He couldn’t imagine she was thinking about the park as well, but what else was there to do?

Stacey was in everything – every ripple of the river, every orange brushstroke in the sky, but it wasn’t the Stacey he had known all that time, but rather the one he had discovered that day. Every movement of the water told him to stay put, that it was here that he might understand something about the world and himself, but he remembered that Charlie was having a party that night.

“He’s good for these things,” he thought. “He understands. He’s good to speak to.”

It was late in the evening when he arrived, having walked most of the way and only taking a bus at the last moment so as not to be rude and arrive too late.

“Come in, come in!” Charlie said, giving him almost no time to speak, immediately introducing him to about ten people whose names he forgot instantly. The living room was lit up, there was food, but Peter didn’t eat, and in one corner, he spotted someone he had met months ago at another of Charlie’s parties. Charlie, it seemed, never had a spare moment. At one point, when rushing over to the kitchen, Peter got hold of his arm.

“Listen, we couldn’t have a chat, could we? When you get a moment?”

“Of course, we can, of course, but right now I need to fetch some more beer.” And he was in the kitchen before Peter could reply.

Later on, Charlie was off in the corner, pontificating about something or other, while Peter leant against the wall, sipping his wine slowly, not so much morose, but with a meek smile, thinking that he was there, with all those people, when earlier that day...

“Peter! Have some more wine! I just opened another bottle.”

On the bus home, his mind was littered with thoughts of the party. He thought about how busy Charlie was all the time, and about how he was never starved for conversation. He thought about the clean, chicness of the living room, how the wine had felt cool in his empty stomach and about a girl called Mel who had been telling him how lasers could be used to measure nutrient levels in the soil and, without warning, these thoughts suddenly annoyed him; so simple and expected, yet so cruel to his mind. He wanted to denounce them as a lie. Only then did he remember that a better, purer memory was trying to beat its way through, and he resented the party for obscuring it.

When he got home, he slumped onto the sofa and a kind of depression bound him to the spot. The sofa was grey, the white walls were discoloured, and strewn about the table was all the mess his brother hadn’t cleaned up from the past few days. It was only then that Peter realised he hadn’t eaten all day, but something prevented him from getting up. Why eat? Moving on to something as ordinary as making a sandwich offended him, as though it were some unworthy token of his attention.

“It’s ridiculous really...” and yet he didn’t move. All he wanted, sitting there on that depressing sofa, in that depressing room, was to repeat that moment from the park over and over, feeling it as intensely as he could. His attention centered on a dirty plate, crusted with dried pasta sauce, and for some reason it infuriated him beyond belief, as if in those crude, mundane stains was everything he hated about life; none of the poetry, romance, or elusive emotions which had come to him that afternoon. There was nothing about the glowing spider, about the knowing smile, no conversations about baby goats, nothing beautiful or confusing. No, he could understand that stain perfectly well. He thought of his brother, his parents, and of someone who used to work with him and Stacey, who started everyday sighing saying they wished they’d slept more...

“What do people do all day if not this?” He wouldn’t be able to tell us what ‘this’ was.

At some point his brother returned to find Peter rooted to the same spot, looking off somewhere only he could see, his fingers resting just beneath his nose. They had some conversation about nothing, innocent enough, and all Peter could think about was saying out loud what happened but this idea terrified him. He tapped at the table, as if this might stop him revealing too much. The conversation was deflected as planned, but rather than feel relieved, Peter was disappointed, even more so for knowing there existed no outcome which suited him.

Life had a different rhythm, it seemed, in the days that followed. Every day the burning in his chest was that much quieter and a sort of numbness had overcome him. If he went for a walk, the memory would greet him like an old friend, arriving when he was maybe ten feet from his door, walking with him arm in arm. He knew there must be people passing him by with their own stories, all their joy and happiness and yet, none of it made sense to him. It existed but remained completely unreal.

“So, what part shall we think about this time?” the memory would ask, but it was always that smile at the end which won. He might be out with his friends or doing something mundane, like cooking and the memory would reappear, jarring him with a real, living force. Whole days would pass with him doing nothing at all, and when the grey shadow of evening arrived, he’d wonder how it had gotten so late.

One afternoon, having lazed around as usual, he fell asleep and had one of those daytime dreams which begin the moment your eyes close and are somehow stranger and more vivid than those at night. All kinds of insignificant images floated up in his mind, but these images changed, like a swarm, to form some iridescent image of a park, one that was certainly familiar, and in it, he saw Stacey, smiling at him, speaking in some language he could not understand. He woke up as if from a nightmare, but the greatest pain came from seeing those white walls again, and the now dark sky, reminding him another day was almost over.

All dinners and parties had become somewhat uninteresting, tarnished by the fact that they held no relation to his day in the park. He still accepted the invitations and turned up, his rational mind telling him it was good to get out of his flat and away from his thoughts, but another part of him really believed that something might change if he went, as if being around people might somehow connect him to the world which contained Stacey. He’d travel at half his pace, not caring if he missed his bus or caught a later tube. He’d imagine everyone at the party, asking him how he was, what he had been up to, all these normal and reasonable questions, and be irritated by them. All of the guests were like wax models, their voices mechanical, their words hollow and irrelevant to anything that mattered. And wanting to honour these feelings and not betray himself, he resolved to turn up to the party sullen, without those waxy smiles, not talking because he couldn’t talk about what he really wanted to. But the moment Charlie and everyone else greeted him, he too would be smiling, laughing, making jokes, only to feel ashamed of them afterwards.

“Why do I want everyone to see my mood and ask me about it?” he wondered. “Can’t I just talk to Charlie?” Wasn’t it all so simple? But for whatever reason he’d stop himself every time he was about to bring it up. The prospect was embarrassing, even scary.

The two of them were walking home late one night from a party. It had been just like any other and its ordinariness upset Peter. The air was cold and muggy. A film of moisture clung to their skin. The two friends were silent. Everything, including this silence, told Peter that this was when they would have the conversation.

“These things happen at the right time,” he thought.

Turning down a long road, lined with tall sleepy houses, Peter broke the silence.

“Do you think it’s a good thing to say exactly how you feel?”

He was looking down, continuing to walk, assuming Charlie was giving it the consideration he gave to every philosophical question.

“Oh no,” Charlie suddenly said. Peter turned around, ready to speak when he saw Charlie shaking his leg. He’d just stepped in a puddle.

“Why don’t you come inside?” Charlie asked when they reached his place. It was late and Peter had to be up early, but what did that matter? Charlie’s flat was well-furnished, clean and lit with warm lamps. Peter lay down on his sofa, scrutinising the ceiling as though there really was something worth looking at on it, while Charlie busied himself about the bookshelf.

“What is he doing?” he wondered but knew that Charlie always had something to occupy himself. “I used to be a busy person. But ever since...” He couldn’t help a smile. “I’m not the person who existed before all that.”

He looked over at his friend, who took the rearrangement of his shelf so seriously.

“What good is all that?” he wondered.

A hatred for everyday life had developed in him. What joy was there in eating, buying your toothpaste and milk, or just tying up your shoes? And yet he knew that all these things must exist. He couldn’t live on lofty sentiments and nostalgia alone. Someone might do something innocent, like drop their keys or start some conversation about the weather and he’d want to berate them for it.

“Oh, well done,” he’d love to have said, not believing himself while he did so.

And Stacey was there, in his mind, scrutinising every mundane task he occupied himself with. Nothing could live up to this terrifying image he had of her.

“But why does he say nothing?” he thought, thinking of Charlie. It was natural for him to ask, wasn’t it? What else was there to talk about?

In some sense, Peter thought a trick was being played on him. Here was the rest of the world, going on just as it had in the days before the sunny afternoon. He thought about all the millions of people in that city, spread across all their homes, living their own lives, some lively and active, others boring and mundane. If you were to look at the city and pick out one of these stories, it could’ve been his. It could have happened anywhere, in any city or village or town, but it had happened there, at that moment, in that neighbourhood, in that park, with that person...

“It all comes to nothing doesn’t it? People content themselves with that thought. No. You have to do something.”

Still, there was little he felt he could do and so resigned himself to doing very little at all.

III

It was almost June. The weather seemed to have regressed to something akin to March. The day might start off blue, promising every kind of summer impression only to turn grey at some random point, thwarting any plans you might have had to lie in the park. There was less hope of sunning your skin and those who ate outdoors in pub gardens seemed to do so out of a kind of stubbornness; a refusal to believe that summer hadn’t actually arrived.

If you had told Peter those few weeks had been three months or even half a year, he’d probably smirk and say he believed you. Everything about that sunny Friday was misty. The image had become thinner as the days went on and he no longer felt that rush in his chest, only a whimper, the last rebellion of some burning ember. When he slept, his mind turned back to that afternoon, trying to give it back all the colour it had lost, but other irrelevant and seemingly random thoughts would cloud it over. Sometimes his brother would be talking to him, one time he even mentioned Stacey, and he thought he might tell him what had happened, just to breathe some new life into the memory. This didn’t come to him as a desire but as a radical possibility, much like someone who feels they might be able to, for no reason at all, chuck their house keys down a drain. An imprecise image of Stacey floated in his mind, like she was made of water. All the while, the actual Stacey existed, walking around the city with those same eyes, silky tufts of hair and raised brows.

It was a soggy Thursday. The heavy rain sounded like the scrunching of a sweet wrapper. Peter lay on his tattered grey sofa, trying to count the cracks in the ceiling. The sash window was half open, making it seem like the rain was indoors. His eyes were heavy, and he only realised he’d fallen asleep when a knock at the door woke him up.

“Did I wake you up?” Charlie asked at the door. His coat and face sparkling with water, but he was completely undisturbed by it.

“Oh no,” Peter lied.

Charlie took off his coat but didn’t know where to place it.

“Put it anywhere. This whole place is a mess.”

He threw it on a chair which already had a jacket on it.

“Can you judge someone by the place they live?” Peter asked bitterly.

“I don’t think so. People are far too complicated.”

“Let’s take yourself. You know exactly what to do with yourself. Everything is ordered in your world. It rains on your way over here, but you don’t complain or even frown because what can you do about the rain? And then I look at your place and it’s spotless. It looks like its shining. Honestly, how do you keep your place so tidy? I try but everything just runs away from me.”

“I just clean each little mess when it happens.”

Peter smirked. “See, I have this problem where I need to be ready to clean and it has to be the perfect moment, otherwise, I don’t do it. I... I work myself up to it and it becomes this overwhelming task you know? Like: ‘Today, I must clean and if I don’t, well then, I’ve let myself down and I’m a failure. You promised yourself you’d clean up and you have such little self-respect you didn’t do it.’ I’ll tell you nothing can make you quite as miserable as that.”

Peter stood still, hands on his hips.

“Sorry, I forgot to offer you some tea.”

“Do you have coffee?”

“Yes. Hang on.”

And there he was, in his cramped, crusty kitchen, pouring scalding water out of his scaly kettle and stirring instant coffee in a cup which, once white, was now a muted yellow. And while he stirred, something gripped hold of his chest as he wondered how it was that everything in his life had led to that specific moment.

“But this is much a part of my life as everything else,” he told himself.

“Thank you, Peter.”

“I don’t know how you drink that stuff,” he said, as if the idea of it exhausted him.

“How else are you supposed to stay awake?”

“By keeping your eyes open, but recently, I’ve just let myself fall asleep.” He fell onto the sofa, rubbing his forehead. “Look at this place. You know you’ll come back next week and that coffee cup will still be there.”

“It’s okay. These things get away from all of us.”

“But it’s a serious issue, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been to messier flats,” Charlie smiled.

“I’m not so concerned with the flat as I am with the kind of person who lets their flat get so messy. No, I should have some self-respect but if it all becomes a case of doing justice to myself then...”

He suddenly stood up.

“It might seem like I’m making a big deal out of nothing but let me make it clear to you. I’ll give you an example,” he went on, unsteady. “Imagine a young man whose done nothing with his life. Every good story he tells is someone else’s. Every significant event in his life is either a thought or a dream, nothing else. And suppose this person really likes someone, but he knows nothing will happen if he sits around all day. So, what does he do? He waits for a sunny afternoon and walks with her, thinking about all sorts of irrelevant things like the birds and the colour of the grass, all in an attempt to push back a resolution he’s set himself, one that’s so terrifying he can’t imagine actually doing it. He tries to put it off, but a thought comes into his head. For the first time in his life, he’s more scared of letting himself down than getting rejected. So, he hugs her and says...”

A thought stole his words. He saw for another second, as bright as that day, the park and her smile when she told him that people ought to be confident, say what they believe and take the plunge.

“He says: ‘I want to ask you something.’ And she smiles at him because she already knows what he’s gonna ask. She’s expected this for some time, and now he knows this for sure. He asks her the question and she says they’re so similar, she doesn’t want to ruin a great friendship. But he’s happy, you see? That’s what’s strange about it, because he did what he thought he’d never be able to do. But after a while, the cracks in his heart start to show. He’d worked himself up to it so much he had almost forgotten why he’d asked in the first place.”

Charlie said nothing for a long second.

“And why is that?”

Peter shrugged his shoulders, like it was obvious. “He liked her. To go out with her would’ve been... really... fun.” The word fell flat, but Charlie smiled at it, hearing instead every other word Peter felt but was unable to say.

“I would say that that man had done something great because while he wasn’t in the best possible world, he had done everything he could to make sure he wasn’t in the worst. That’s the sort of man who ought to be happy.”

Peter shook his head but smiled like he was in fact Charlie’s unbearably happy man who couldn’t complain about a thing in his imperfect little life.

“It’s funny how these things work,” he said. “I’ve done so little in this last month that it all seems like one long day. Every afternoon is just like another. All my mornings are the same.”

“And every hour is like another, until you decide to do something different with it.”

He hadn’t needed an hour. How unlike the rest of his life those two minutes were. Two minutes on a sunny Friday that most people had forgotten, lost in the sea of every other day which passes by unnoticed.

Something grew inside Peter. His friend, the white walls, the tattered sofa, all of them were teeming with a kind of significance. The rain was picking up but that too seemed beautiful, somehow indicative of a truth which Peter couldn’t quite express but felt and wanted others to feel as well. Perhaps it would be sunny again on Friday. Who knew? But right then, the two friends had better sit down and talk. They had much to discuss.

About the Author

Hardev Matharoo

Hardev Matharoo is a short story writer based in London. His story ‘The Gold Rimmed Glasses’ was published by Fairlight Books in 2022 and he is currently compiling a short-story collection, as well as several theatre sketches and a full-length play. His stories explore the variousness of human nature, attempting to present life as it is actually experienced.

Read more work by Hardev Matharoo .