25. Colleagues

“They had no conversation together… but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other. Now nothing! …  Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”

~ Jane Austen (Persuasion)

As  I was led to a table almost in the centre of the hall, I wondered if it would be better if he joined me sooner, or much later. Later would have given me some time to regain what little composure I had had and perhaps I could have made an excuse to not wait if I wanted to chicken out.

I didn’t really get a chance to dwell on it too much because he walked over from his group almost right away. I cannot even remember if I had a drink brought to me. I just remember he sat at the small square table with me.

The atmosphere was tense and uncomfortable.

He picked up the book that he authored, and I had brought with me, got a pen out and signed it. I then gave him the compilation of newspaper clippings from all the newspapers and magazines that I had put together in a book. It was a little messier than what I had done before but I had been pressed for time.

He flipped the pages but his cursory glance through the articles lacked the same enthusiasm that he showed the previous gifts.

We were both quiet. I didn’t know what I could say to lighten the mood. And he, I believe, didn’t know how to broach the subject I had written about. There was a business-like air to his movements that night.

I was silently willing him not to say anything… because somehow I knew it would not be a response I wanted or needed. Inside, I berated myself for insisting on being there. I wanted to just get up and leave and hoped that he would provide me with an exit. He didn’t.

Finally, perhaps he too couldn’t stand the silence anymore, he said that he appreciated what I had done. He said, he thought of me as a “colleague“.

I have always read how people said that they wished, at some point of embarrassment in their lives, that the ground would open up and swallowed them. I didn’t understand the analogy or how profoundly mortified  a person could be to wish that, until that night, at that very moment.

I remember nodding my head as I tried to find the right words to say that would make any sense and not make things worse. All I could do for several seconds was nod. I didn’t really hear if he said anything else, or maybe I don’t remember. It was almost like he was talking to no one in particular, he was looking down at the table as he spoke and therefore he didn’t see my nods. He didn’t seem to notice that I had not said anything.

I think I finally said, “it’s o.k. ******, it’s fine”.

Then he nodded and added, as if he was offering a consolation, that he thought I was very brave. I thought “huh?” and didn’t quite comprehend what he meant. Brave? I must have looked very puzzled because he explained, that he thought I was “brave for writing” what I did, for letting him know my feelings.

I don’t recall what I said exactly but I know I thought at least I have said what I needed to say. He seemed to think he needed to say more and all I wanted to do was to say, stop. Enough.

So I said again, “it’s o.k. It really is.”

He nodded and then we both got up and walked in opposite directions. Me towards the main exit.

As soon as I was out his sight, I sat on a stone wall and called X. I needed to talk. The driver who drove me there would have only just started his dinner and I didn’t want to make him come right away. A part of me needed to get away to figure things out and another part just wanted to crumble and cry. I still had the drive to the airport and a flight home to get through so I needed my wits about me, but my brain was all foggy and my heart, well that part of me was confused with feelings of disappointment, sadness and frustration.

I was a colleague??? Not even a friend? Not even an inner circle? After all that he shared, after knowing so much about him and his family and being included by the people he was close to… I was just a colleague? The outer ring that is just one away from the general public? Ouch!

Brave? That was my consolation?

I was his brave colleague.

Give me a medal.

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