A colleague of mine, who I happen to dislike very much by the way, made this observation about me the other day- that nothing ever seems to happen to me. By it he meant that I never got sick, nor had relatives that got sick, or died, I had never gotten into unfortunate mishaps, never had any reason to be devastated about anything. He meant to point out how lucky I was that my life was so uneventful. Congratulations on your boring life, Hiram. Thanks very much.
It isn’t true that nothing extraordinary has ever happened to me, but perhaps what I consider extraordinary might be something truly unremarkable to someone else. In any case, I’ll tell you about it, because the story will be over before you realize what it’s about.
Her name was Janis, and she was beautiful enough for me to be sure that she would never have anything to do with me. The first two years of uni, all I ever did in respect to her was stare. I was a shameless starer when it came to pretty girls, and she was something else. I’d stare at her from a safe distance and she’d never notice and life was perfect.
In the third year, for some inexplicable reason, Janis joined the editorial board for our student newspaper, and she was assigned as co-writer for the fortnightly column which I had been writing since the very beginning. That first meeting, we were introduced to each other. We shook hands, and I hoped that she did not recognize the creep who’d been ogling her for the past two years. That was the first time I saw her up close, I noticed everything-her eyes that were slightly far apart, the beauty spot on her forehead, the shimmer of her pink lips, her perfectly unruly curls.
She had been the one who suggested that we get together to discuss the next story for the column, which mostly featured write-ups about real-life mysteries and criminal cases. She came to my flat just outside campus and settled down on the arm chair as though we had known each other forever. I poured us both some wine and we chatted for a while. I found it strange how, considering the fact that I was incredibly attracted to her, I didn’t have any difficulty in talking to her. I told her about the story that I had hand-picked for next Saturday’s column. It was about a woman who had committed suicide some years ago. She had been found dead in her bed by her teenage daughter late one night, and the papers had run stories about the ensuing police investigation, as well as accounts on how the woman had been rumoured to be mentally unstable, drug dependent and was having an affair with a prominent married man.
As I switched on my computer to start a search, Janis placed a hand on my arm. She told me not to bother with Google as she knew the story as well as the inside story on it. She had a rather self-satisfied smile as she said this, and so we had many more glasses of wine, and we nibbled on cheese crackers as I listened to her.
The woman, to whom I shall assign the pseudonym Jane, was a high school teacher whose husband had left her a year or so before her death quite out of the blue. She was a friendly enough person but she didn’t socialize much, preferring to spend her free time with her daughter. They were a close mother-daughter pair and it was clear Jane doted on her daughter, even taking her along for her weekly therapy sessions.
In the months leading to her suicide, there had been whispers that she was having an affair with let’s call him K, a wealthy businessman with a wife and four children, after he had been spotted a number of times entering Jane’s house during the late night hours. Soon after, this man stopped visiting, and another man, L, was seen, walking up to her front porch in that same furtive manner, entering the house and only leaving the next day. You could tell with one look at this second man, that he was very young, and so there was even more gossiping.
Two days before her death, she had been spotted at a marketplace chatting with her paramour, her hand on his arm. It was as though she was impervious to the nasty things that were being said of her. She looked healthy and happy, as a woman in love would be. And then, one night, she had poisoned herself (the post mortem results had revealed she had ingested a lethal combination of a variety of drugs which included heroin and fentanyl) left a suicide note for her daughter, the contents of which were read only by the daughter and the investigating officials.
There was no indication that it had been anything other than a suicide, but the police did their bit to ascertain the cause, and took in both her rumoured lovers for questioning. Both denied having had anything other than a close friendship with her. They had airtight alibis that were well corroborated, and there wasn’t a single piece of physical evidence that suggested any involvement of foul play. The case did not live up to the expectations of people and it was soon forgotten.
I told Janis that the story might not make for a very interesting read seeing as most of what was known about the case had been pieced together from hearsay and conjecture. Janis told me she had told me only the story and not the inside story. I noticed as she said this that she had left the first button of her blouse open, and that even though no cleavage was revealed, it left me feeling optimistic and as though all hope might not be lost for me.
We didn’t get any work done on that first meeting. She stayed for dinner and left just a little before midnight. I didn’t expect her to kiss me and she didn’t, but she did give me a light tap on my cheek with her hand, and I was hopelessly in love with her by then.
The next day, she sent me a text message asking whether I would like to go to the movies with her. The day after that, we drove around town. Then we went for dinner in a nice restaurant. She held my hand whenever she pleased. She gave me a haircut at my house. On Thursday, which happened to be my birthday, she brought a giant cake with ‘Happy Birthday, Hiram’ written on it which she said she might have baked, depending on whether I liked how it tasted or not. I said it was the best thing I had ever tasted, and she gave me a kiss that almost touched my lips.
Now all this felt like I was in a dream, because I’ll be quite honest with you, I did not score so high in the looks department, and neither did my brain make up for my lack of good looks. I was ugly, poor, boring and I sure as heck wasn’t a nice person. Even though she didn’t act as though she wanted anything more than friendship, it was still surprising that she sought it from me.
One afternoon in the following week, I had just gotten home after having sat through four consecutive tedious classes which had left me with a throbbing headache. For me, the only effective way of getting rid of such migraines was a good long nap, so I took off my shirt and jeans and got into my untidy but comfortable bed. Just as I did so, I heard a soft knock, and I knew it was her. I told her to come right in because my head hurt quite badly and I couldn’t bring myself to get up. She had come to work on our story but when she saw that I wasn’t well, she called me a poor thing, removed her shoes and got right into bed with me. That night, after we had dinner, she said since she’d already slept on my bed, she might as well spend the night, and she did.
It was exactly like we were lovers but we didn’t say anything to each other about how we felt. On my part, the only reason I didn’t tell her I loved her was because despite her affectionate behaviour, and the fact that she certainly seemed to enjoy my company, there was always something in her demeanour that suggested that I should not make any eager assumptions.
The two weeks passed in a flash, and it was only when my alarm went off on Friday morning that I realized I hadn’t so much as started on the story for my column. I made myself a cup of coffee and opened my notebook, which was literally a notebook made out of paper. The only way I could write creatively was with a pen. I worked on the story for about an hour or so, putting in unnecessary details here and there, and just as I finished it, Janis walked into my apartment wearing a dress and sunglasses, which she took off as she flashed a smile at me. She looked exquisite, and I decided then that I would just say the words and get it over with. The worst that could happen was that she would say she didn’t feel the same way and that we should never see each other again, and I would go back to being the content loner I had always been. The worst case scenario was the only one I could picture, but I was determined to do it anyway.
As she walked in in her pretty dress, I told her I had something to tell her. She told me it could wait because we had to finish our story. I told her I had already finished it, and handed her the notebook. She closed it without looking at it and told me to sit down because she was going to tell me the real story.
In January of the year that Jane died, she received a phone call from her friend and neighbour, who said that some very malicious things were being said about her, rumours which she doubted were true but upon hearing which she thought she must tell Jane to be very careful. Jane hung up the phone and headed to the kitchen. Her daughter was drinking orange juice and studying. She looked up as her mother entered the kitchen.
‘Darling, I’ll make some sandwiches’ said Jane, kissing the top of her daughter’s head. She replied that she didn’t want any, and went up to her room. Jane sighed. The pressure of school work seemed to be causing her daughter a great deal of stress lately. She had become more reticent than usual, and was always burying her head in her text books.
Around mid April, the same friend and neighbour warned Jane about the tattletales that were lurking in every corner, saying things that she was sure weren’t true. Jane was far from bothered. Even though L was taking the precaution of visiting her only in the late hours of the night, as had her previous lover, K , to her, all this was highly exciting. She had had boyfriends before. In fact, her first tryst had been just two weeks after her husband left her. But it had always been she who ventured out, sometimes during school hours, sometimes in the early hours of the morning in the middle of her morning walk. Nobody ever suspected a thing. It was only when the men started to visit her that people took notice. For her, having a man sneak out of his house to visit her, taking him up to her bedroom, watching him leave with an expression of regret, knowing that he had wilfully tread on dangerous waters, gave her a feeling of power, and she decided then that her days of rendezvous in the woods, in the backseat of a car, in hotel rooms, was over; her lovers would come to her.
L was the first ‘boy’ she had been involved with. He was young enough to be her son, and yet he seemed to be the most intelligent among all her past lovers, this being so despite the fact that he was an unemployed college dropout. He often visited her during the daytime on weekends, and he was the first one that Jane introduced properly to her daughter.
It had been early one morning, when L was putting his clothes on and preparing to leave when Jane professed her love for him. He said he loved her too, and that it did not matter to him what people thought of the two of them together.
Jane came home from work that evening, deliriously happy. She cooked a delicious dinner, and then she and her daughter watched their favourite talk show on TV. After her daughter went to bed, she took a shower, put on the new lingerie that she had bought the previous day, and then lay in bed eagerly keeping an ear out for the soft tap on her bedroom door.
L was slightly late that night, owing to the fact that there had been some necessary errands to run. Nevertheless, he arrived at House no.59 a little after 1am and he let himself in with the spare key that he owned, making sure to tip toe as lightly as possible so as not to wake Jane’s daughter up. He did not knock on the bedroom door as he usually did, and opened the door in a feverish hurry.
At first he thought she was asleep, but knowing that she was a light sleeper, he quickly understood something was wrong when she didn’t wake up after he nudged her. Her pill bottle lay on the floor, he picked it up and saw that it was empty. On the label, ‘Miscellaneous’ had been written with a permanent marker pen. Not knowing what else to do, he went to the daughter’s room to wake her up. He found that she was already awake. He told her that something had happened to her mother and that he couldn’t wake her up. They went to the bedroom together. Jane’s daughter put her head gently on her mother’s chest. She couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She quietly pulled the blanket so that it covered her mother’s chest. Then she went to the phone on her mother’s bedside table and called the police.
L escaped in time, and even though the police took him in for questioning a number of times, they couldn’t find evidence substantial enough to book him. It was his great luck that none of the nosey neighbours had seen him on that particular night.
I told Janis that it was certainly an interesting story, that is, for a real life incident, but it did not shed any light on why the mother killed herself.
Janis said that during the time that Jane lay in bed waiting for her lover to arrive, she had heard a sound from her daughter’s room and went to check on her. When she opened her daughter’s room she saw that a chair had been placed in the centre of the room, and her daughter was standing on it, and tugging at a piece of cloth she had hung on the ceiling fan. Jane was horrified and immediately ran to her daughter.
‘You promised’ she cried. ‘You promised you wouldn’t try that anymore.’
She sat on the chair and held her daughter, who said softly ‘Don’t cry, mom.’
After a minute, she said ‘I don’t like that you sleep with men in our house. The kids in school are calling you a slut, and they think I’m like you. Yesterday, a boy followed me into the girls’ bathroom and told me to take off my bra and give it to him or else he’d break my nose right then and there. I’ve been getting bullied worse and worse, and I won’t take it anymore.’
Jane listened to her daughter, the tears falling uncontrollably from her eyes. She said ‘I’m sorry’ over again, feeling as though her heart would break into pieces.
‘Remember our pact?’ her daughter said, looking at her mother. ‘It’s either none of us or both of us.’
Her mother nodded, but as she began to understand what her daughter meant this time in saying those words, her tears stopped abruptly. She had been the reason that the person she loved the most in the world had suffered. She did not deserve to be alive. They held each other for a while and then, holding hands, they went to Jane’s bedroom. Jane emptied the contents of her ‘Miscellaneous’ pill bottle into her hand and then swallowed them all with a large gulp of whisky. Her daughter tucked her in and kissed her goodnight. Then she went to her room and placed the chair next to her table. She sat on her bed and waited.
I should have asked Janis at this point to continue with the story. It was clear that both mother and daughter were mentally unstable, and that the daughter had attempted suicide earlier, on which occasion her mother had made her promise not to do it again or else she would do the same. ‘It’s either none of us or both of us’. I had no doubt now that this was going to be the most interesting and talked about piece I had ever written, but there were still many unanswered questions, especially with regard to the daughter’s intentions.
However, as Janis paused and I was about to ask her one of the many burning questions in my mind, she slipped one of her dress sleeves off her shoulders, and then the other, and all at once, my mind went blank.
The next day, Janis was gone. I was told she had dropped out owing to a personal matter, the details of which I could not succeed in obtaining despite every effort I made in doing so.
Needless to say, I was wretched. I could have contacted her if I wanted to, there were a number of ways I could have obtained her number, or her email address even, but I was unable. I had been deserted for no fault of mine and it rendered me catatonic. I had no urge to get out of bed, let alone the flat.
Of course, real life isn’t like the movies, and one can’t simply go into hiding for months just for being scorned by a lover. There were a million tests that I had to study for, and so on I went, filling my time with studying and trying my best not to think of her.
A few months later, I found myself attending the editorial board meetings again and writing again, and seeing as I was running out of stories to write, I thought I would finish what I had worked on with Janis. I searched for the relevant articles online, there were only three, and clicked on the one that seemed to be from the most legitimate source.
And there she was, my Janis, just as I had expected. Her hair wasn’t curly and her breasts hadn’t developed as yet, but it was definitely her. It was a very grainy picture, considering the fact that it had only been taken a few years ago. She was holding her mother’s hand and looking directly at the camera with an expression that I could only describe as ‘bored’. Her mother was even more beautiful than she was. She had curly hair.
So in any case, the point of my story, which you might have gotten by now, is that yes, I am boring and commonplace and have neither seen nor experienced great things, but I have made love to a woman who, when she was just a teenager, wilfully caused her mother to take her own life. A murderess, practically. And that counts for something.