Monday, April 26, 2010

Choices.

My first ever short story. Just reposting it here now.


It was 6 years ago. Even today I cannot forget that walk. The longest, most thought filled walk of my life. What if I could go back in time? Would I do any of it differently? It was the most difficult choice. I admit I had not thought things through and it was all finally just an impulse. But 6 years later my life is not everything I hoped it would be. I can barely recognise myself. My name is Mark (probably the only thing that has remained the same) and here’s the story of an impulse that changed the pulse … the very beat of my life.

6 years ago…

Every step shapes the future and… you.

I work at a big law firm when I get called in to the boss’s office. It is just 3 years into my job and they want me to shift departments. Shock number one. My law firm handles murder cases, divorce cases, copyright cases basically anything and everything. I have done many copyright cases, numerous murder cases (a fair share of both victims and convicts), but that’s about it. Apparently we are running short of divorce lawyers and they want me to explore. Shock number two. Walking and thinking is something that eases my mind and my racing heart beat. So I decide to take a walk. I leave the office with my bag in hand and thoughts looming over my head. Less than a minute after I start walking the walk turns into a slow jog.

At 11 in the morning on a cool winter’s day, in New York, one does not sweat so much. Either this sudden change in departments or the urgency of meeting the client in half an hour makes me fret and of course sweat. I slow down and gather my thoughts, my inhibitions, as well as my anxieties. A divorce attorney. I take a deep breath and sigh. Here I am a ‘die hard romantic’. Will I be fuelling a client’s want to end a lifelong promise to stick by each other… through thick and thin? Or are divorces only a chance at ‘love’ again? Oh who am I kidding? It is breaking a promise. But isn’t this a far lesser evil than saving a criminal from lifelong imprisonment? Have I not done that a number of times? Boy oh boy, am I going to hell. Saving criminals from punishment, hindering justice to reach the defendant, swindling money in the process, there must be a special punishment in hell for lawyers of my kind. And now divorces. Maybe cupid will punish me by never letting me find love also. 38 and unmarried. Breaking dreams and marriages, my specialty. The matrimonial Ad truly sells itself.

But being a lawyer in America I should have seen this coming. We never fall short of divorce lawyers or even ministers for that matter. And even if I do say so myself, my record of victories is quite impressive. Not the best. But I guess good enough to have a slight demand. I laugh. At my lack of more pride.

Bates (my boss) had said that our divorce cases are 4 times our other cases all put together. My firm is one of the biggest in the city and housing over 35 top class lawyers each handling a minimum of 2 cases at once. So we must be receiving a large chunk of the cases. I do hope. Or else the number of divorces is just plain alarming. Shock three?

Till then I was so lost in thought that I had not taken in any part of my surroundings. I look around me. I notice a lot of teenagers enjoying the beautiful morning arm in arm. The look of fondness in their eyes. Sights of pure immeasurable joy. And even the rare smiles at strangers. A lot of love in the air I think. It makes me wonder then why all the divorces? I slowly take in this unblemished feeling and hold onto it. The wonderful feeling of belonging which I remember from years ago. It brings a tiny smile to my face as my long and reflecting walk neared its end. I have to meet the client now I think. Yet I have not reached any decision and if possible I am more confused. I slow down to close to a crawl. The parting words of Bates come to mind, “this requires a whole different approach. A more sensitive one, Mark. But I am sure you will handle it just fine.” Saying this he had handed me a paper that I had hastily tucked into my pocket. Remembering it, I frantically dig around in my pockets for it. I find the chit at the same time I reach the café. I read out loud. “Lauren Waterston. 23. Wants a divorce. No complications. Just unhappy. Brunette. Short. Will be dressed casually. Mostly denims and a tee. Hint: Go easy on her. She is still fresh from her decision.”

I walk into the café ‘bleu’ and scan the room for her. The overwhelming smell of food takes over me. As I walk in I realise how hungry I am from my strenuous walk. The smell of muffins and eggs waft to my nose. I stand there in the doorway paralysed by these delightful smells. After what seems like an eternity, I snap myself out of it. I look around the room. It is a quiet place with blue wallpaper. Typical I think. There is a soft murmur in the air. Slow melodious music playing in the background. Combined with the wallpaper it had a calming effect on me. The waitresses are all dressed in ‘blue’. Mostly middle aged women with smiling and approachable faces. Lots of couples laughing. Two friends sharing a deep moment over drinks. A man eating something that looked simply delicious, alone in a corner. A woman with a book and a coffee, alone in another corner. I shoot another glance at the paper in my hand. I look at her again. It is her. On second thought she did look sad. Very sad.

Young. Impressionable. Bruised.

I wake up in bed stressed and restless. The same feeling I have been waking up with for weeks now. The same sleep I have been sleeping for weeks now. Stressed and restless. What was I thinking? I was 20 when I got married. 20!! Honestly it just doesn’t make sense sometimes. I could barely decide what to have for dinner. But this decision I had to make in such a hurry. Trust me to make big decisions rashly. And think forever on tiny insignificant ones. Smart really.

But in fairness I was in love. And what a feeling that is. So pure. A feeling of joy, elation and endless hours of staring into each others eyes. Walking arm in arm always. Sipping the same cold drink with a single straw. Sharing a bar of chocolate. Surprise visits at work. A bunch of flowers on a warm summer’s day. Hours disappearing over repeated refillings of coffee. Ah that mindless feeling of a brand new love. The tingling sensation of a first kiss. The spark of the million kisses after. No doubt it is probably the best feeling in the world. Was I a fool to think it will all last? Just then my phone burst into its loud jingle interrupting my thoughts. I answer it and say “hello?” “Bates and Hermann”, the female voice on the other side said. I reply “yes...” “Ms Waterston, your scheduled to meet your lawyer around 12 o clock at the café bleu. He/she will recognise you. Preferably please be dressed casually”, she continues almost breathless. I nod in approval then let out a hasty “oh sure thing” realising my stupidity. I hang up barely managing a thank you. Looks like I’m going through with this I think.

After all, James and I have already been separated for 6 weeks, 3 days probably 12 hours and definitely counting. The last I heard from him was 5 weeks back when he left me that message on my answering machine. It was aloof, blunt and hurtful. Maybe necessary. He had said it was over. He had been losing interest in me for at least 6 months now. Maybe even longer. Maybe I just didn’t see it before. Probably just didn’t want to. Mostly the latter. Everyone says the first year of marriage is the honeymoon period. Everything is rosy and bright. After, you will be faced with challenges and troubles. You can either face them or flee. No doubt from where I am now what he chose to do. All this could just be sour grapes. I wanted to stick it out… he clearly did not see the need. I let go of as much of my hostility as possible with some deep breaths and decide to get to the café early and calm myself. Before the heart wrenching procedures begin. I pull on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, grab my backpack, stuff a book and my player inside it and brace the winter’s day with a meek smile. I switch on my player that has upbeat music and tune out all the negativity swarming my head. Well, I try.

In less than 15 minutes I reach the café and look down at my watch to find it is only 10:40. Lots of time to spare I think. Might as well get something to eat. I stuff my player swiftly into my bag and walk in. I can’t help but smile. The place is bustling with smiles and everything is blue. Just like the name. The waitresses seem joyous to be bringing you your food. Adorable I think. The place smells mouth watering delicious. I find myself a table in a quiet corner and collapse into the comfort of the arm chair. A beaming waitress approaches me and I order a chocolate croissant, a blueberry muffin and a cappuccino. She nods in agreement and bustles away. I pull out my book and drown myself in the words. Within 5 minutes my order arrives looking more sumptuous that I expected. I put my book aside and dig into my food. Each bite into the croissant was another piece of pure heaven! Yummy…

Having relished it and indulged to my sweet tooth, a bubbly waitress clears the table and brings me my cappuccino. I sit back in my chair and sip on the coffee. I enjoy and savour every sip. Coffee is an essential part of my day. Actually the love for coffee was one of the first things that sparked the romance between Jamie and me. I live alone and work at a PR firm. He is a software consultant. We have barely anything in common except we both had met at a local film appreciation club. So typically, our first few dates were spent either watching movies or talking over coffee and sometimes both. Looking back at it, I am reminded fondly of all the times we laughed, joked and talked. Our relationship was not even one of those superficial ones that can be easily forgotten. It has left a lasting impression on me. One that I cannot forget or even begin to forget in a hurry. Though, over a period of time into our marriage we had lost that spark. He and I both began spending longer hours at work. Voluntarily or involuntarily. Then over time we drifted apart, living together. Finally when we sat down and discussed it, there seemed nothing left to rekindle.

I still remember his almost cold stare. His walk out that door. His last attempt at a smile. The sound of the door closing. The end of us. Back then I didn’t see it that way. Now, as I sit here, miles from that spot, a lot less in pain, I see that door as a sign. There was no option left. This divorce will be a chance at living again… maybe even love. Will give me a chance to finally shut that door and move on. Not just stare at it. Every once in a while I go back in time (in my head itself obviously) to make sure it I had not just imagined it all. Then the image of his eyes, where I had often found comfort returns to me. But now only leaving me with a cold shudder. The sound of his voice, which usually calmed me instantly. Now just reminding me that it is all over. Is it possible to retain any good feeling post a divorce? Is it possible to not regret having gotten married in the first place? Will I ever feel that top-of-the-world-insane feeling again?

Questions nag and haunt my every step. So much that I didn’t even notice the clock strike 12. Neither did I notice it slowly turn to 12:15. I was snapped out of my distant and quite mournful thoughts when I heard someone say “excuse me…”

Innocence can hurt.

“Hey… I’m Mark Mathews… Lawyer…” I manage as our eyes meet. Words escape me the minute I see her. She is young, very young. Yet there is a stunning maturity in her face. She looks heart broken. Her eyes look drained and teary. She has absolutely no make up on. She looks fit. What I could see that is. She looks like a little lost child facing the demons of the world. I decide to shut my thoughts out and sit down. She says in a low tone, “hey… I’m Lauren Waterston”. I reply “yes ma’am.” She quickly adds, “Please call me Lauren.” I manage a tiny smile, “so do we get right into the details or you want to know something about my background?” I ask politely. She smiles softly. I notice she doesn’t have any dimples as she says, “No, this will really be an open and shut case. I just want to keep the house… he can…” she stops to give out a huge sigh and then continues to finish her statement “walk away a happier man.” I respond with a quick “okay”. This statement of hers reveals a lot to even an ignorant mind, an insight to their story to even an absolute outsider. All my thoughts are instantly replaced by the case in hand. This lady is clearly not fully satisfied or for that matter even okay with her decision. It makes me wonder what pushed her to make this decision in the first place. Something drastic I assume.

I muster enough gumption to say “want to talk business or…?” my voice trails off. “Business please…” she replies, her voice barely audible, over the soft music and the café ambience together. But I didn’t have a doubt in my mind as to what she had picked. She looks weary from all the thinking probably needs a break anyway.

A waitress just then makes her way to our table. I order a latte and look over at Lauren and say “any suggestions for food?” she replies with the broadest smile I had seen all morning, “the croissants are a delightful treat.” I turn to speak to the waitress “make those two croissants then.” I tilt my head towards Lauren and the waitress promptly looks at her, patiently waiting for her to order, still smiling. Lauren says “Another cappuccino for me will do.” As the waitress nods in approval and walks away. I tell her, “I took the liberty of ordering you a croissant.” We both share a short lived laugh.

I take out my file from my bag and my note book to take notes as we walk through the full scenario. She slowly eases up and starts talking, “We have been together 6 years. 3 of which we spent married. We started dating when I was 17 which you must have calculated by now. A lot of this must be irrelevant but…” before she clams up again I smile and say “go on... it is all part of a flow.” This encourages her to talk again. She continues still very subdued (as expected), “his name is Jamie Wilson and he is 3 years older than me. About 6 months back we mutually agreed to separate. I was in denial for maybe 6 months before that itself. It was a bomb waiting to explode for a while; I just chose to ignore the loud ticking. About a week after I got a call from him saying it was definitely over and when I am ready we should…” her voice stops suddenly as she catches her breath and probably also replays that message in her head. Then after several minutes of silence that I didn’t dare utter a word in, she finally is able to find the words. She finishes her statement with “… get a divorce.”

Her eyes fill with tears. I offer her a tissue. She takes it without looking at me. Our order chose to arrive right at that moment. The waitress smiles a sympathetic smile at Lauren before leaving. I wait a while and watch her sip on her large cup of coffee. Then I slowly pop the question “Has he sent you any papers? Or are you taking the first step?” She replies with a shake of the head, her cup still in hand. I respond with “did you sign a prenuptial agreement?” She put her mug down and replied, “No… we both had not thought of it.”

She bends over, picks up her bag and begins to dig inside it. She produces a red file and hands it over to me. She says “this should cover all my legal details, my records and even my financial situation.” I nod and take the file from her. I open it and glance through the sheets inside. After giving it a rough read, I close the file and say, “this will be safe with me, it gives me all the information I will need.” I give the case talk a little break while we gorge on the delicious looking croissant. She was right. The croissant is a delight, like a tiny bit of heaven. Delectable and exquisite. Several minutes pass without a word being said. An aura of gloom, doom and anxiety surround us. A mix of them from both of us. I get through mine a little before her. I open my mouth to say something, anything. But words and thoughts just didn’t connect. So I promptly just shut my mouth.

What can I say to her? I barely have my next step figured out. I’m in no position to dish out advice. Let alone to a heart broken 23 year old, who has a fresh, probably a less cynical and more lasting memory of love. I should be honest with her about my uncertainties. But I haven’t even discussed it with Bates. Actually forget Bates. I haven’t discussed it with me yet.

I pick up my head and look across the table. There was this innocence about her. Her eyes I realise. They look fed up yet hopeful. I have this sudden urge to rescue her from this doom and land her safely on the other side. It is an irrational yet a very alpha male feeling. A feeling of being the one that rescues the woman in distress. I then find the courage (if that’s what courage is) and say “Give me his number. I will fix an appointment with his lawyer. We both will go over the details of the agreement. We will fix a date for the hearing. If all goes well you won’t have to see him till the day you sign the agreement.”

I probably took her by surprise because she seemed at a complete loss of words. She nods a solemn nod. She takes a handful seconds before she says “You will find the number in the file.” A look of gratitude had crept into her eyes and face. I smile a meek smile at her. I say, “So I can meet you again this week for us to go over the agreement that I will draft once I get back to my office.” She says “you can just mail it to me if it is too much trouble to come down to see me again.” I just smile. And then say “We can work that out.” I pick up my hand requesting for the check. In the mean time we make small talk about the weather and just follow it up with nervous jokes and more nervous laughter. The tension in the air had reduced but only barely. In the middle of all this our check arrives. I quickly take it and pull out my wallet to make the payments. She says, “But that won’t be necessary.” I reply, “You are paying us a hefty sum to make this happen already. This one is on me.” And then I heard her laugh. For the first time since I had met her she laughed a laugh from within, an almost carefree one. Almost. It was only temporary but it did make me smile to see her that way. We get up, picking up our belongings from all around the table we are seated at. I walk behind her and open the door of the café for her. We stand on the footpath as the cold New York breeze hits us. It reminds me suddenly of the harsh realities. Finally I say goodbye and leave. But not before promising her things are under control and that I will be in touch. She walks away. In the opposite direction and even from the back I knew I had eased her worries some. She deserved a chance. She deserved a new start.

I raise my hand and call for a cab. One stops almost instantly. I say “Bates and Hermann? Marshall Street?” The cabbie nods. I get into the cab and I am welcomed by a familiar feeling. I stay lost in that feeling as the streets of New York dissolve around me and my cab.

Harsh reality of today. Or?

There began my saga of a divorce attorney. I went on to get Lauren her divorce and her house without her ever needing to be in the same room as him. Even to sign the papers. She did move on. She is going steady and in no rush to get married. Happy things worked out for her. She is really a nice kid. She says she is just living in the moment. Those are her words exactly, actually. I share a funny sort of relationship with her. The only client of mine in 9 years of practice I have stayed in touch with. So, definitely the only one I have befriended. We do meet up for that occasional coffee and croissant.

But in fairness I met her at a crucial part of my career. I now practice at “Bates, Hermann and Mathews.” And this big promotion didn’t exactly fall into my lap. The past 6 years have not been easy. They were tough, challenging, involved lots of hard work and obviously a large number of victories with a sprinkle of the inevitable losses. I had began working nearly 18 hours a day. With no personal life whatsoever, it was easy to accomplish. And since I continued this, there was no prospect of a commitment of any sort. Two years ago, I got the biggest promotion and was made partner. Maybe a little early, many would think.

So as of today, I am probably one of the most wanted divorce attorneys in this city. I am rich and basically famous. Safe to say that puts me in demand. I am however 44 and unmarried. Yes, still. Career has become the centre, basically the crux of my life and my existence. Now, I specialise in divorce cases and copyright cases (of course). My personal favourite. I take some up by myself from time to time. When all the others are busy or if it is temptingly challenging. But usually just end up allotting cases to junior lawyers and guide them wherever necessary. Soon after my promotion I moved to real estate paradise in New York. My life on most days was everything one could hope for. I have the job one dreams of when little. I have the house one pictures for themselves. I have more money than I can spend.

But the fact is that I come home to an empty house. On a regular busy day, I can barely make it to my room with both eyes open. But on other days I know something is missing. On those days, December 3rd 2000 comes to mind. I can still picture her face when I saw her for the first time. It had a charm. I am glad that charm never left her face. Over time she healed and found herself bit by bit. And just learnt to live with her past. I am grateful she never lost her smile. That would have been a loss to mankind. I chuckle.

But each time I look back I am nagged by the same question. If I went back in time would I do anything differently? If I went back in time would my life have taken that turn? Would I have ended up somewhere else all together? But the harsh truth of reality is I cannot turn back time. I probably will never find out how my life could have been.

What if life is just a play of words…? A twist of fate…? A spark of irony…? And what if my irony is that I didn’t get life’s pun and I missed that blessed turn of the road…

3 comments:

  1. Read this before but funny how Lauren's feelings took on a whole new meaning. I guess Cupid dances in glee when you describe love... untainted and pure:)

    You have a way with words as you explore the realms of fiction. So glad you brought Tales and Beyond to life:) Love u Nids :* :*

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  2. Its hard to not love a writers guild award winning story :)

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  3. Jana!! :D Thanks love! :* thats a compliment if i describe love untainted :P im so murky always :P hehe!! :) Love you babe! :* glad i brought it to life :)

    Paarth!! :D Awwww!!! you na! :* :* :D

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