In my writing class we were asked to produce a short story about a reunion based on the John Cheever story, Reunion.
I have linked it if anyone is interested, it’s a terrific read!
Here is a brilliant reading of the story by Richard Ford, it’s about 12 minutes long and really worth a listen.
Below is the second draft of my own reunion story.
A familiar stranger
For a man who was absent for the majority of my life, hearing his voice still had a considerable impact on me. My fathers stagnant words lingered in the room a while as I tried to re collect the finer points of our conversation. I turned to my partner who, in the six years of knowing her, had only heard my bad mouthing and fabled tales of abandonment. I don’t like to use the word father; I find it to be somewhat of a dirty word. In this sense I think of him to be the man who conceived me. It removes all connotations and preserves the fact in a single word.
On this day I had spoken with my ‘father’, on the phone, for the first time in eight years. It was those teenage years he missed, between 12 and 20. Though I come across as bitter I can assure you this is not the case. I look back on these years as being some of my fondest. Though he has been absent I am not without a father. In fact I have many; I have formed continuous father figures throughout my life. First and foremost this idea manifested itself within my own mother, who charged through the role leaving me to want for nothing. I have taken elements from friends, bosses and films and so on. I have had a lot of fun learning the pitfalls of adulthood and piecing together what it means to be man.
I had not thought about him for a long time. Years even. His mother, my grandmother, had died. I would say passed away but that would be to assume she went gently and there was nothing gentle about this woman. I like to think she died in a bitter way, gasping her last breaths appalled at the mess she left behind. He was upset, searching for his family, in his moment of need. I spoke in false and broken terms of endearment. My entire countenance had become a facade for something deeper brewing within that had yet came to light.
“Would you like me to come to the funeral?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I would be honoured if you would come” His reply came fast and calculated. He gave me the details and uttered the words “I love you son.” The call was over.
It may interest you to know a few things about a Muslim funeral before you learn about the reunion of my ‘father’ and I. From the moment you hear of a relative’s death until the moment they are in the ground you cannot wash, shave or change your clothes. It is also ‘haraam’, or forbidden, for a Muslim to cry at a funeral. Knowing this I calculated that his emotions would remain on a leash giving me the upper hand. His appearance would be drab allowing me to look better and finally that his mind would be distracted and mine would be focused. Essentially he would be weak, I would be strong and I found this to be a fascinating role reversal.
My journey down to Middlesbrough from Newcastle was plain and uneventful. I kept my mind occupied with scenarios of the up and coming events. Playing them over and over in my mind, I remained calm and fearless. The picture I had in my mind was the only one I knew. He was a strong, tall, heavy set man with a temper to boot. I imagined his foreign accent talking to me in near perfect English with a sullen tone. I could see his thick black moustache framing all his words while his slicked back hair stood firm. There were feelings of nervousness amidst my gut along with anger and rage. They were silent for the time being, and I was thankful for that.
It had been over a decade since I had last stepped foot in a Mosque. I didn’t belong and I felt I was in some way mocking the religion as I stood there in disbelief of the sights. It was a room filled with death. My crisp black jacket clung to me like a shield as I took a seat amongst the hundreds of mourners; it was awash with shalwar and kameez drenched in a range of pastel colours. My mind fell prey to its usual tricks of emotional transference when confronted with situations of overwhelming despondency. I imagine a character that has been through a similar ordeal, I allow him to play out my affections. Searching the room for my Father I felt like Hamlet, alone on a blacked out stage, crying out “who’s there?” I knew the storm was about to hit, but for the moment all was unknown.
It took me a while to realise that scanning for a familiar face was futile. I didn’t know who I was looking for, a resemblance of a man I once knew? This was a room of family, resemblance was everywhere. The cigarettes were burning a hole in my pocket as I fingered them slowly. I stood to exit and upon this movement cast my eyes upon a grey haired and small man. He was aged and weak, his face broken and weary. I smoothed a small crease in my coat and bounded over. They say it’s impossible to silence the inner monologue of your mind, yet I cannot recall a single thought as those twelve steps brought me closer to the man I once called father. Has a stranger ever walked toward you with purpose? Someone with a vague resemblance to a person you used to know? You find yourself unsure whether to look directly at them until it is too late. This was the reaction I saw as I approached him. Then as quickly as it had taken me to walk over I had confronted him with the only way I knew how.
“Hello father.” His eye lids resembled the Hoover Dam. “Don’t cry,” I said “It’s haraam.”
“Thanks for coming son,” he said fighting back the emotions “have you been to see your grandmother?”
“No.” I said, and told him I would go and pay my respects. I left his company and within moments of this I was staring at my first dead body.
It was an intense atmosphere, ground zero for the mourning flocks. A thousand prayers were being said at the same time. I had no rationale for what was a respectable time to stare at the shell of a woman I once feared. I knew there was something that I should be feeling, instead I watched on until I felt enough time had passed. On return we broke from our pleasantries to prayer. The women were separated from the men and with my shoes removed on entry to the prayer room I was reminded of the time I spent a night in a jail cell. They also take your shoes and being in that room feeling so alone brought back a lot of the same feelings. I was pondering the strange set of circumstances that had brought me to my knees on a prayer mat. The complex words and strange actions came fluently to me like it was only yesterday I had been repeating them.
“Bismillah Hir rahman Nir Raheem” I repeated as my body contorted to the many different Muslim prayer positions.
As we left the prayer room all was calm, a certain weight had been lifted from everyone and there was a noticeable shift in people’s emotions. Faith, to a believer, I imagine, is like any vice being that it’s a short term fix. I needed my own, I needed nicotine. I explained I was going to smoke and he followed me out. I was met by the many greeting hands of old uncles and first cousins. People were very excited to see me and many could not believe the young man who stood before them was the same 12 year old boy they once knew. I smiled politely.
To my surprise he brought up the topic. “Have you missed me?”
Had I missed him? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was a ridiculous question. I just looked at him; in my disbelief I uttered the words “no.”
“I’m sorry,” He said, “I’m sorry for not being there.”
I regained my composure. “I wasn’t going to bring it up,” I had a more determined look in my eye this time around, “but since you have.”
“No. Please.” My ‘father’ seemed, for the first time, to show a little regret on his face. Regret, only for the simple fact that he had brought up a conversation that I was not going to. That he had, in someway, mistaken the moment.
“Is that all it takes? Sorry?” I remained calm. “Sorry?” I questioned again. “I’m leaving you now.” I said it in a way that would imply the word ‘forever’.
That was the last time I saw my father. There was no phone call, or second attempt to reconnect and quite simply he slipped back into my peripheral. He was someone who would be brought up on a whim when I told a story or laughed with my mother. There is no great epiphany or moral victory. The man had faded back into my life just as easy as he faded back out. I will offer this, the second time, it didn’t hurt a bit.