At 18, he had seen it all! For starters, there were the never-ending drunken brawls at home and these were things that he had literally grown up with. Come sundown, choice expletives punctuated the shroud of silence that usually engulfed his boarded up home. Then there were the inquisitive and shifty-eyed neighbors with drooping jowls/sagging pendulous frontal appendages right down to the waist pockets of their voluminous nightdresses with spindly craning necks looking forward to some cheap freebie late-night entertainment. Of course, with a Spartan existence thrown in; fraught with disappointment, loss, illness ad nauseam, all you had to do was name it and he had seen it all!
His home; or ‘house’ as he preferred to call it, because it was just that ? an old dilapidated house which often leaked during heavy showers was nothing but a couple of walls and a strained atmosphere devoid of love and warmth and perpetually had a funereal pall. The few acquaintances that he had, preferred to give it, and thereby him, a wide berth; probably so in order to save him further embarrassment. It wasn’t the best of environs for a teenager on the threshold of adulthood; but being born of a lesser God, he had to sup it all up without a whimper! Despite being weighed down by happenings around him, he had still managed to have an aura of childish innocence around him.
Although not one to indulge in escapism, he bore everything head-on and suffered in stoic silence always harboring hopes of a better day. A born romantic; reading was a passion and the magic of the written word as it spun tales of ‘eternal love’ spanning over decades and across time had him mesmerized and enraptured. Often, while the world was in blissful slumber and an uneasy calm had temporarily descended over his troubled home, he lay awake huddled up in bed and wished he was anyplace else except in that house.
On such miserable nights while waiting for the oblivion of sleep, the muted sniffles of his desolate mother seemed to pervade through the house and each time he overheard it, a cold dread encased his soul. Only the ticking of the clock kept him solitary company as his thoughts worked in tandem with the incessant passage of time. Although he was privy to these regular occurrences, remarkably; his pliant heart was not inured and with it, unceasing hope took root that someday soon all this would come to pass.
He yearned to turn back the clock to happier times when laughter reverberated in the hallways of his home and the air was suffused with the warmth of love and mirth. He wished his dad would sober up and wished for the times when his house was once a real home, when his mom had a smile on her face! He wished he could find that elusive ‘eternal love’ somewhere, or rather, love would come beckoning and take him someplace far away – just like the books said they would! He prayed for that someone special to shower him with love, to cherish him, to understand him and to be plain let be!
Somebody up there must have heard that prayer because by a chance encounter he did meet that ‘special someone’ or rather, that’s what he thought at that point of time! Just about 29 or so with the first signs of corpulence; probably a throwback of a lifestyle given to gay abandon and overindulgence, she charmed her way into his austere and guileless life. Burdened with ‘excess baggage’- kids, from a marriage turned sour; probably she wanted to test her newfound freedom and explore her horizons. It was a disaster waiting to happen but for him; languishing in a void, bereft of love and affection, it seemed God-sent!
Her undivided attention was flattering and their long talks diverted his attention from the disparaging scenario that transpired with unerring regularity at his home. These long conversations were looked forward to and gradually a feeling of tranquility; hitherto unfelt, settled on him. She spun him many a sorry yarn about her wretched marriage and began to confide things in him; things that he had never heard before except from books! Being made a confidante gave him a sense of deep contentment and he was lulled into a sense of security and that nascent friendship that had taken root forged into something of permanence over many of those quiet evenings.
Understanding, camaraderie, belonging; those essential elements that had been lacking in his life leaving a gaping void, were beginning to fill up. Old wounds were healing, bad memories were fading into the distance, things took on a rosy glow and pretty soon the two of them became inseparable. No day was complete sans the ritual repartee and the swap-over of tales. On those rare supposedly candid moments she confessed that she was in love with him and he was elated! The knowledge that he constantly had someone to talk to and that love had finally found him, fortified him and somehow the bleak scene that awaited him when he reached his house didn’t really faze him anymore.
Being in close proximity, it was inevitable they began to be aware of the physical attributes of the other. He was polite and courteous as she preened around in her finery; wide-eyed and giggly as a pimpled teenager fishing for compliments, and being the friend that he was, he was way too generous! Feigning ignorance at her subtle advances took some doing though! For starters, he was wary of crossing the thin line between friendship take a plunge into the great beyond. Considering the circumstances, he was loathe to embark on such a precarious journey as a relationship meant to last forever was what he always put stock by.
That disarming smile coupled with effusive banter and what seemed like genuinely exuded warmth appealed to his introverted persona. He didn’t have to seek refuge behind a false fa?ade and project a brave nary-a-care outlook at the world. He could be himself ? garrulous when he wanted to, witty and just plain himself! Often he caught himself thinking; "Is this love?" "Is this how it feels to be in love?" How the God’s above must have laughed at his na?ve track of thought because little did he know was that interspersed with her half truths and outright lies; the web of deceit was spun and woven well!
As days passed by, her hitherto subtle advances began to take on serious overtones and often, conversations were replete with sexual innuendo. Gestures were suggestive and even something as a trivial as an amble was transformed into a seductive strut; probably contrived to set raging hormones aflame, although the desired effect was lost on him! The usual conversations took on a radical shift and often bordered on near-erotica; and despite his shyness and reluctance to be party to such unaccustomed matters, he was left with little choice but to listen. At times, her suppressed sexual tension was tangible & the air literally electric with it! The web was in place and closing in slowly but inexorably on the unwary prey and on one of those indolent evenings, it caught up with him and that marked the End of his Innocence!
A quirk of destiny or divine providence; but she had to leave for better prospects shortly after. With tons of assurances and promises of being in regular touch coz hers was an everlasting commitment; or that’s what she said, she bid him adieu. It took everything out of him as he watched her leave; it seemed without a second glance back! To his pained eye, she seemed rather upbeat to revert back to the life that awaited her on foreign shores before she had breezed into his life.
He had only his house to go back to and the thought was disheartening to say the least. His only friend and confidante; and of late something else, was far across the sea and it seemed like a shadow had fallen over his expressive eyes. His impish half-smile, half-grin was hidden under a mask of inscrutability. The relentless ticking of the clock on many of those even lonelier nights only accentuated his loneliness. But hope reigned supreme!
…He yearned to turn back the clock to happier times when laughter reverberated in the hallways of his home….
Diligently and with loving care and attention, he wrote to her although he couldn’t even afford to affix stamps on his letters. Days turned into weeks and there was nix word from her. In desperation, he wrote to her pouring out his heartfelt feelings and although the weeks had turned into months, not a peep from her. Casual enquiries with common acquaintances revealed many sordid stories and they left him confused and distraught. Yet, he believed in her and her love and tried to find excuses for her inability to stay in touch.
Until that fateful day when things at home took a turn for the worse and he was at the end of his tether! He could take it no more and he had to get a load off his head and unburden his weary achy heart! He sought out a common acquaintance and blurted out his story and the prematurely wizened eyes glistened in deprecatory anguish ? "You too fell for the sob story that the Vamp fed you? I did too, a couple of years back and look where it has led me. And oh, there are some more of us too!"
His senses reeled and he felt his tiny little world closing in. Hurriedly he stumbled out, made his way to the nearest telephone booth and with trepidation punched in the number she had given him. Her voice had become hoarse; a fallout of a life of excess and iniquity. But she sounded cool as a cucumber and said ? "How could you be so na?ve to believe in something called love? Grow up, boy; you’ve served your purpose and goodbye"! Click!
Darkness had fallen outside and it permeated into his soul. It was truly the End of Innocence!
Hey folks; something tells me that most of you’ll will think ? Hey, that bloke in there; it is you and it’s your sob-story! But I say ? Hey, it’s not me!
This story is purely a figment of my sometimes fertile, sometimes febrile imagination although I’ve been inspired by a couple of real-life incidents.
Mind you’ll, Santa might not exist; but Vamps do!
Author: Chris Rego- UAE