“Do you know that guy?” Merlyn asked her brother, her eyes never leaving the old man sitting in the corner. Most of the guests had already left, but the man sitting alone simply kept gazing at the picture of the woman who had passed on.
“Which one?” Marc asked. “That one…” Merlyn responded signposting.
“Maybe he was a friend,” Marc remarked casually.
“Whose friend? He looks strikingly younger than mom & dad and old enough to be ours!! I have never seen him before…” Merlyn’s observation was precise.
“Should I walk up to him and ask… maybe he is lost or something,” Marc looked at his sister, who simply rolled her eyes.
“Let me go and ask…he does not look lost to me. Maybe he knew someone from the family.” Merlyn walked from her spot towards the old man, who did not notice any movement around him, as she sat by his side on the church bench.
“Good afternoon,” she courteously introduced herself and then asked him who he was.
“I am a friend of Mrs. Brye,” the man paused studying Merlyn’s expressions. Marc walked up and sat by his side too. “My name is Liam,” the man continued.
“How do you know her?” Merlyn asked. Liam looked at the both of them.
“How did you meet her?” Marc echoed Merlyn’s inquiry.
After a busy and stressful performance evening, Clarice walked out of the club towards the 4th street that led to her tiny apartment. Not only was the day tiring but it had been embarrassing as well for her to have performed for a group of drunk blokes who barely cared about her music. She was so tired that she barely noticed him stalking her. What must he want from me, she thought to herself, pacing up as quick as she could. In the small town that she belonged to, she had never experienced or even heard anyone stalking anyone, so this came as a surprise to her. Regardless, at this hour of the night this did not seem normal behaviour so she suddenly, stopped and turned around. There he was, standing about 20 steps away from her, the street lamp glowing behind his head, rendering his face in the dark and making it difficult for her to recognize him.
“Who is it?” she called out as she slowly walked towards him, her guitar safely mounted on her shoulder. It was cold and the silhouette of the person seemed to be shivering. “Who is it?” she asked again, now barely five steps away from him. He stepped into the light. She noticed that he was a young boy, barely out of school.
“I am a fan…a big fan!” he blurted, his eyes coy like a dove’s. She smiled. She had quite a number of admirers in the short singing career that she had had in the town, some drunk, some sleazy, some notorious… but this was the first time, someone had walked up to her and told her that he was a ‘fan’. There was an innocence about him that made Clarice’s heart warm up instantly. She turned around, thanked him and walked away. The boy continued following her. A few paces down, she turned around, “What is it, now?”
“I want a job…,” he said.
She laughed like the night sky had suddenly dropped a few stars on earth. “I barely have a job to hold myself. How can you expect to get a job from me?”
“I can play the guitar for you.”
“I play the guitar for myself.”
“If I play for you, you can focus on just singing, songwriting and composing.”
“Sounds like a great offer,” she said thoughtfully, “but initially I won’t be able to pay you.”
“I am okay with that,” he replied. After a pause, he said reflectively, “I am homeless, presently.”
She smiled. There was something about him that made her trust him. “Follow me,” she said, turning around to walk towards her apartment, all the while smiling at the happy tapping of the feet that followed her.
“What’s your name?”
Amidst shared routines, jam sessions and appointments to play at local pubs, they both lost track of all the time that they had stayed together until one day, during a performance, a drunk man mounted the stage and tried to grab Clarice. Out of politeness (and the money at stake), she managed to almost complete her gig, but the man would not withdraw. Finally, Liam had to intervene and Clarice left the stage, the pub and the town with him. It seemed like her talent did not hold on its own anymore and that people appreciated what they saw way more than what they heard.
Liam and Clarice were unsure of how to get a job in the new city but they were confident that their hard work and talent would lead them somewhere. Competition in the city was fierce and inflow of cash was low. Getting a decent apartment became quite a struggle as well. A mixed tape of their songs in hand, they visited all the record companies they could find, apart from the small gigs that they performed at the local pubs. For months, there was no decent meal or a gig to boast about. Once playing at a mall, Liam was handed over a card from a talent management agency. As much as Liam was confident that this would be their big breakthrough, Clarice was doubtful. She had been approached previously and her experiences had been distasteful.
“Why are you being negative about this?” Liam question.
“Not sure… It’s not the first time we have been approached by random strangers. And it has never benefited us in any way, so far,” she sounded disheartened.
“Let us try one more time. You may never know, this might be it.” After various failed attempts, Liam still sounded upbeat and positive.
Clarice looked into his eyes, they shone like a 5-year-old child, his smile emanating from the warmth of a thousand suns. That one striking flash of a smile made her forget the struggle they had gone through these few months, the sparse meals they had shared, the one-room apartment with shared spaces. She walked up to him and hugged him. Out of nowhere, the tears came rolling down- from silent sobs to unabashed cries to silent sobs again and cuddled sleep.
The next morning was a bearer of good news when the agency signed them on to a single. Clarice was appreciated for the country soul that she brought to the sombre music played by the label. Her distinct, raw freshness made for her to highlight her talent in various media. Not any less than a sensation, within a few years, Clarice made a popular name in the industry. Liam managed every tour, every performance, every interaction for Clarice. Until Matt stepped in. He was the head of the talent acquisition company Clarice had signed up with.
With time, Matt and Clarice came together and Clarice became a force to reckon with. Liam continued for a while to manage her business, but when Clarice announced her wedding with Matt, he decided to withdraw from her life.
“What a beautiful young man you have turned out to be,” moist-eyed Clarice summed up her whole association with him. Liam was quiet, just like he had been for most of his time with her. He had been her alter ego all these years, making sure she is safe and happy at all times. She was always by his side, acknowledging each and every droplet of wisdom he would share to make her a successful singer. Every morsel of bread they had shared, every thunder rain they had escaped from together, every rent they had saved taking away from milk money…it all came back to her. With every drop of a tear falling to the ground she found gratitude.
Liam was sure she was in safe hands and so walking away from her life, now, did not seem like abandonment. He recalled the first time he had seen her, playing in a local pub in her short spring dress, brown wavy hair let loose, a bright red lip colour overshadowing her demure persona. The bright yellow spotlight that fell on her was no measure to the light that shone from within through her eyes. One look around her and everything else looked darker. What was she doing in a place like this, he had thought while looking at her strumming her guitar. He was young and she was hopeful. He wished to have a life with her, she wished for a life. Though their aspirations were not the same, they still found companionship in the few years they spent together.
But now it was time for Liam to rescind from her life, once and for all.
“And kids…that’s how I met your mother,” Liam said meditatively.
There was an awkward silence between Liam, Merlyn and Marc. The space between them echoed with various silent questions, contemplations, exchanges and altercations. As implausible as the story seemed, it made the siblings’ heart go out to the slight frame of the man sitting close to them. Dressed in a coal black suit, he looked much younger than their mother, who had died at the age of 83, bearing in her heart the spirit of a relationship that held immense importance to her. And to Liam.
How many times in our life do we question reality? How many times do we ignore the signs of a fairy tale? How many times do we overlook the little piece of heaven that could have been, because what we have seems larger? Overshadowed and marred by the veracities, sometimes the soft, slight, butterfly-winged dreams never take off.
Clarice had lived a successful and happy life with Matt and their children. Her days of penury, pain and dearth were in the past. There was no more deprivation, except the phase of her life that she had parted with… never to reunite with.
“Are you going to stay in the city for a while?” Merlyn asked Liam.
“No, I must leave… I am extremely sorry, I could not stop myself from coming to see her one last time. When your father, Matt…err, Mr Brye, passed away a few years ago, I wanted to come and see your mother too but… But I just did not get myself to. I got to know about him passing on, like your mother, through the papers.” Liam’s barren eyes reflected the pain in his heart visibly.
Marc looked at Merlyn, uncertain of what was to be done next. Their mother had never opened up about Liam ever before. And here they were with the information they were unsure of what to do with. Suddenly, Merlyn recalled a picture of her mother and Liam she had seen when they had moved homes many years ago. She had asked her mother, who the young boy was and her mother had simply said “William Messenger”- The guardian angel. She went inside her mother’s room to fetch a box full of her memories from the past and dished out the picture to show it to Liam. His lost, barren eyes bore droplets of bliss looking at the picture. On the back was a tiny poem by Tyler Knott Gregson that read-
If it’s moments
and moments alone that shape the soul of the life we lead,
then how dare we waste another?
Too many have passed,
too many we can never get back.
Liam’s slow footsteps towards the exit door signalled a reassurance that his unrequited affection for Clarice had found its imperative. The faint smile on his lips settled that his association with her was not just a passing phase in her life.