A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Absent from Photo

Absent from photo

“Where did Alison go?”

“She left here and then the last I heard from her was

I enter the darkened dining room by way of the public bar and some locals bitterly complaining about the well-dressed strangers who have interrupted their viewing of the NPC final. A large, unkempt woman stares at me, then, gathering her not inconsiderable bulk together, approaches me with outstretched hand. I am dumbstruck. Who is she? Was she part of my class? She tells me her name. Carol? Carol? I can’t remember any Carol. Then it comes back to me. The girl we thought was retarded. The girl who started off two years in front of us then somehow ended a year behind. The girl who cried all the time. The girl who wet herself. The girl who had fits as we, unsophisticated in the ways of medicine, looked on with disgust. Carol asks who I am. I tell her and I can see she is equally dumbstruck. She pulls me toward the series of class photos pinned to the wall above the stage.

“Show me where you are,” she demands and pushes me forward. I locate the shy, grinning figure with tie in the left of the back row.

“Oh! Yes. I can see the resemblance now. You know,” she whispers consipirationally, “I look at these photo’s at least once every week. You are coming to the 125 year celebrations in 2006, aren’t you?”

I am still deciding if I can see the evening through. I mutter something about overseas, and family and try and extricate myself from her, but she is having nothing of it.
“That’s my husband over there by himself,” she says, indicating a crumbling little, balding man with a bandaged head nursing a glass of orange. “He doesn’t say much but he is always listening. I make a vague wave in his direction but he is looking away and the moment is lost. I rudely leave Carol muttering about those absent from the celebrations, which has quite ruined the grandeur of the occasion for her.

The crowd has grown and I hear frantic calls form the organisers that we are running a few minutes late because three of the party have not yet arrived. One, Charles, was my best friend at primary school and we flatted at University for several years until some indiscretion on my part drove us apart. I have heard that he was the life of the party the previous evening and everyone is abuzz at how much he is unrecognisable from his boyhood days. I have had the same comments when I introduce myself and I can’t fathom if I have aged beyond recognition or that I was so inconsequential at school that no=one has any memory of me. I feel the same way about several of those gathered but nothing can prepare me for Charles. I am looking at a group of women standing b7ybthe dartboard and I have names for them but I cannot recall them from school days. I scan the room and there is an aged, white haired man, dwarf and clown like, laughing with a group of people I recognize as Brian, Kevin and Keith. Then, it strikes me. This must be Charles. He looks to be in his eighties. Suddenly he splits from the group, approaches me with outstretched hand. We shake hands and then he cocks a finger at me and shoots me in the head.

“Gotcha,” he says. I have absolutely no idea what he means. He talks in this strange lilting, poetic voice, but he says nothing. He repeats words of others conversations and then smiles knowingly.

Now the organiser has taken centre stage and he loudly announces we are to have a roll call. A roll call for Christ sake! This is just like school. We are instructed to stand and say ‘here’ when our names are called. My mind flashes back to primer three and the scenario’s I constructed when someone’s name was accompanied by an ominous silence. Had he been beaten by his father again? Had she wagged school to go fishing with her dad? Had he been taken ill again and he was now in the emergency room of the local doctors”

“Roy Armitage”

An ominous silence, then a voice announces, “Deceased”

There is a murmur among us all. Roy is the only one we think has died although several have not been able to be tracked down.

“Jane Brindle”

“Did not return any calls or letters. Living close by – reclusive.”

There are further murmurs and some tittering from the women by the dartboard. It is starting to come back to me now. Jane had been ruthlessly teased, and by this group of women in particular. And that fat man in the glasses over by the bar had assaulted one of the other girls, and been suspended for a month. Yet they are all standing around, on their best behaviour as if we had had such a happy childhood. Charlie looks at me after his name has been read out and murmurs,

“This was a great place to grow up in. I have such fond memories.” I recall that he left as soon as humanly possible and my recollection is that I followed in his footsteps.

I suddenly realise that I don’t have anything in common with any of these people. I grew up with them, spent six or seven formative years with them, more with some of them. But, we have outgrown each other. They have new sets of friends, partners, children, families. We really are quite different.  I am absent from this photo.

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