Friendship’s Poverty

From the third Tri- Short Story Collection A Corner Of The World

He was always in black as if mourning his life. Wearing his black silk pajamas and standing by a window, he was lost in deep thought as he looked down at the city lights that were not alone. A band of brothers. They were surrounded by each other, feeding of one another’s energy to illuminate the darkness. If only he could be one of them, he thought.

He retreated from the oversized window and sat back down again, but something agitated his attempted effort to rest. He got up and walked over to the mirror and, looking into it, tried to see beyond his image. He was very handsome with his short, dark as night hair, so soft that running his fingers through it felt like satin. His eyes, deep and thoughtful, were filling with tears as he looked at himself, at what others called radiantly hunky. He dismissed that truthful description and went back to the couch and lay out his athletic frame. There he slept.

The morning came fast and breathtaking with a boisterous orange glow against the sky’s blue backdrop. The sun rays, beaming through the glass of the window without curtains, struck his face and awakened him. He got up and stretched. This feels good, he said to himself. He took a shower, made breakfast, and then sat at his grand table with its leather upholstered chairs. He ate by himself. It was his birthday. Thirty-three years. His knife and the aristocratic like taps of his tea cup being placed on its saucer were the only sound breaking the silence. He turned to look at the phone, hoping it would ring. Who will call? he asked himself. There’s no one.

He was the only person in his big house on top of a hill, and he felt crowded in there. His father left him a lot of money but not much of anything else. He did not have to work. His money invested wisely added to his wealth. After breakfast, he left the house that had a view of the city and drove his car into unknown streets. He wanted to see people. He wanted to get lost in their lives. And that was when he noticed them. A man and his pregnant wife standing at the bus stop. He yearned for that but did not know how to get it. That sense of belonging to another human being. That feeling of loving someone and having them love him back. The joy in creating life and waiting nine months to hold a baby in his arms. Those things eluded him. Shyness did not fit him, as if he was not born to wear it, so that could not be the reason for their absence.

He had to do something. And he did. When the man got on the bus, he followed it. The woman stayed behind. He followed until he got off. He watched him as he walked up to a large building and joined a group of men that were waiting outside. They were all dressed in the same shirts. He slowly turned into the parking lot and honked his horn. The group of men standing there all turned around. He only wanted the attention of one of them. And he got it by pointing his finger authoritatively at him and signaling for him to come over.

Walking toward the car nervously, the factory worker stopped and, cautiously bending at the rolled down car window, stammered, “Hel-hello.”

“Hello. What’s this building?”

“A factory.”

“What do they make here?”

“Parts.”

“Parts for what?”

“Are you thinking about buying it,” he joked uneasily.

“Is it for sale?”

“I’m not sure. There are rumors that it is.”

“What’s your name?”

“Morea.”

“Hello Morea.”

“Hello,” he said, standing up and taking a few steps back. “Can I help you with something? I have to clock in.”

“I would like to invite you and your wife to dinner tonight.”

He took more steps back. “Who is this guy? How does he know I’m married?” Those were the questions that ran through his mind. He needed to come up with an excuse not to go. And so he lied.

“I’m busy tonight.”

“Hey, Morea,” one of the men behind him said, “let’s go or we’ll be late.”

“I’m coming,” he said, feeling rescued.

“Who is that man?” the stranger heard him asked as he watched both of them walking away.

“I don’t know.”

He was alone again. He drove away but told himself that he would be back. He was going to follow him home. He went shopping, making preparations for a birthday dinner. There was another him that was created, and he liked it. He was no longer going to be lonely money. He was going to be happy, even if he had to pay for it.

Like an army soldier sent out on a very important mission, he was on time when the factory closed for business. He parked his car where he could see who was coming and going and where no one could see him. His car was different, changed from the luxury Mercedes Benz to a more modest Ford. He saw when Morea left and got on the bus. The traffic was crazy because of all the people making their way home, but he was committed. He followed him again, but Morea did not go straight home. He did what he always did after work and stopped at his best friend’s house. Lee also worked in a factory, but they made other things.

The friendly stalker was patient. He waited like a self-controlled stoic as the sun began to flirt with the oncoming evening. He overheard a conversation he wanted to be a part of, laughter he wanted to share in. He cried softly, as if not wanting to hear himself. His tears burning as they traveled slowly down his cool cheeks. He let them fall. When the factory worker finally left, it was not far he went. The person following him noticed how small his house was, like a cottage cut in half. His wife, waiting at the door for him, greeted him with a smile. They’re so in love, he thought. He watched as he went inside and waited ten minutes before going and knocking at the door.

“Who is it?” the man on the inside asked.

“Daniel.”

As he was opening the door, he asked, “Daniel who?” When he saw who it was, he felt a shock up from his back and up to his head. After his hand fell from the door handle, he stepped back.

“Morea, what’s the matter?” his wife, standing nearby, asked.

“What do you want?” he asked as the uninvited guest let himself in. He glanced around. There was too much in there. Every piece of furniture, although crammed like people on an overcrowded bus, gave off a feeling of being homey.

He looked at the both of them. He, fat, short with thick, black hair and eyes that looked to be naïve. He was like a toy figure with an exaggerated amount of hair. She, tall and stately with a protruding stomach. He took a seat in a chair in a corner.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” he began, “I’m here to take you to my house for dinner.”

“Do you know this man?” she asked, trying to get even closer to her husband.

“I met him this morning. How do you know where I live?”

“I followed you.”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“Please don’t.”

“And why shouldn’t I?”

“I gave you my word that I wasn’t going to hurt you. My word is never broken unless . . .”

“Unless what?”

“Nothing. I’m Daniel,” he said as he crossed his legs, “and today’s my birthday.”

“Ha-ha-happy birthday.”

Pulling out a piece of paper and pen, he wrote something down. “This is where I live. You can let anyone know where I’m taking you. I was driving this morning and I saw you waiting at the bus stop,” he explained, as if what he was saying happened all the time.

“And you followed the bus?”

“Yes. I’ve never done that before. You’re all strangers. You might do me harm. I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’ve prepared a delightful dinner to celebrate my birthday, and I wish to share it with you two. There’s something else that I want to share.”

“What?” he asked.

“My money.”

“Your money?”

“That man you were talking to before you came home, is he your friend?”

“Yes, my best friend.”

“Do you like living here?”

“No. I want to do better but things are tough. You can see my wife’s pregnant. This is our first child and I’m saving what I can for her and the baby.”

“How would you like to leave this place for good?”

“Huh?”

“You must choose between your friendship and a chance to leave this place. I want you to become my friend.”

“Are you crazy?”

“No,” he replied, looking directly at him with amused eyes.

“You want us to be your friends?”

“Yes.”

“And if we become friends, we’ll have to leave this place and my best friend?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“That’s the way I want it. You can come to dinner tonight and, if you say yes, see where you both will be living.”

Was this guy for real? Morea thought. There he was, wearing a black soft pants and a shirt, sitting in the corner like a suspicious bearer of opportunity, making a proposition that had a costly string attached. What was he to do? Take his wife and go to dinner to someone’s house he knew nothing about? Ask him to leave? He found himself taking his wife into another room to discuss it.

“What is he saying?” she asked him.

“Should we go to his house for dinner?”

“No.”

“But he has offered—”

“You don’t know if he’s speaking truth.”

“There’s only one way to find out. I’ll go to dinner tonight, you stay home and—”

“Morea,” she said, grabbing hold of his hand.

“Don’t worry,” he told her as he lightly squeezed her hand. “Take the paper he wrote his address down on and if I don’t call you in one hour after I leave then call the police.”

“I don’t like this.”

“I’ll be alright. Don’t worry.” They exited the room with her clinging to his arms. “Okay,” he said, “only I’ll come tonight. Let me clean myself and then we can go.”

“Okay.”

“My wife will keep you company.”

“Morea?”

“It’s okay. I won’t be long.”

He left, leaving her standing as far as she could from him. She guarded her stomach with her arms, as if harm might come to it.

“Don’t you want to sit down?”

“No.”

“How pregnant are you?”

“Huh? Six months.”

“Please, this is your house, sit down.” She took baby steps toward the sofa that had seen better days. “Isn’t that better?”

“Huh?” The door opened. “Morea,” she said with relief as she quickly got up.

“I’m ready. We can go,” he said as if eager to leave.

“What’s your name?” he asked, addressing his wife.

“Rebecca.”

“He’ll be back, Rebecca. Don’t worry.”

He drove to his house without saying a word, although his dinner guest tried to start a conversation. Small talk about the weather and his car. But his eyes were straight ahead. His passenger became uneasy in his seat. He rolled down the window in case jumping out became necessary. He laughed in his head because he could not imagine his non-athletic self doing that. Because of his anxiety, they drove for what seemed like a long time. When they finally stopped and got out of the car, he stood in awe in front of the house on top of the hill. The house he may be living in if his answer was yes. It was huge with majestic columns and no gates.

“This way,” Daniel said.

“You own this house?” he asked, looking left, then right, and then turning around slowly so as to catch what little he could see. Between two chairs was a statue of two small boys bending down laughing. The lighting, that gave some brightness to the dark, shined on them more than anything else. Anyone entering the house would see them, as if they were placed there for that sole purpose. But he rarely had visitors.

“Yes,” he told him as he opened the door.

“It’s big.”

“It’s empty,” he said, turning on the lights. “The dining room’s this way.”

He followed him and continued like a child in a toy store looking left and right, wanting to see everything but only catching glimpses. Marble flooring. A grandfatherclock by the door. Pieces of furniture he knew nothing about. Things looked expensive, like pages you might see in a home and décor magazine for the rich and famous. His heart was racing with excited anticipation. He stood at the dining room door that looked regal as if a present was about to be unveiled.

In the dining room were hardwood floors so greatly polished that he could have seen his own reflection. The high ceiling had a chandelier that looked like something chaotic with what appeared to be broken pieces of glass and one big bulb in its center. In the corner, a chair. And next to it a small table with a crystal figure of something he did not know and was not brave enough to ask. On the opposite side, a jukebox. There was plenty space to put more things. No art or any color except the white paint covering the walls, giving it a calm feel. Daniel watched him but said nothing.

“Please, have a seat.”

“There’s a lot of food.”

“You should call your wife and let her know you’re okay.”

“Oh, yes.”

“There’s a phone over there,” he told him, pointing to it.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll let you speak to her privately.”

“You don’t have to. Hello,” he said to his wife, “I’m fine. Don’t worry. I’ll bring some food home,” he whispered and took his seat again after hanging up.

“How long have you been married?”Daniel asked, taking his seat at the head of the table.

“Five years. Why aren’t you married?”

“Because love can be treacherous when you have a lot of money.” Morea shook his head, agreeing with him. “Eat.”

“Do you really want us to live here?”

“Yes.”

“But Lee’s my best friend. I can’t leave him alone and just end our friendship like that,” he said, snapping his stubby fingers.

“You can think about it for two weeks. I will not force you.”

“But why can’t I keep our friendship,” he demanded softly.

“Loyalty.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.”

“All your needs will be taken care off. If the answer is yes, I’ll make a room upstairs into a nursery. You’ll not have to worry about anything anymore.”

“No more money worries. That sounds like a dream,” he told him as if under hypnosis.

“All I expect and want is friendship.”

“You made this yourself?” he asked, enjoying the succulent taste of the meat.

“Yes.”

“It’s very good.’

“Thank you.”

He did not receive a tour of the house, neither was dinner an interrogation from either of them. Little chatter came from Daniel. When his guest left, he was in a very happy mood. It was only good things he said about his dinner host, heaping praises like a loyal subject to a king. His wife was not taken in by all the pleasantries. She was still cautious. No part of her was saying yes. But a part of her husband was. He slept soundly with dreams like a pleasant land of fantasies. She did not. By morning, he was all no.

“I’m going to see Lee. I’ll be right back and then we can walk to the bus stop.”

“You’re going to tell him?”

“Yes.”

“Morea?”

“Don’t worry. He’s my best friend. I’ll never leave him.”

Maybe going crazy was like cutting an orange and squeezing out the juice just to find out that it was sour, not sweet. They were painkillers but the pain was not physical. He took one, fell asleep, and then woke up. But the night and day were the same, except the night was more darker—quiet, where his thoughts all came together awakened by restless sleep and rained down on him like a thunderstorm.

He stood there in the warmth of the night, the red staring out of eyes that refused to blink. Normally those eyes were like a grave, cold and dark. His five-feet-seven inch frame so small, looking at his friend, wondering if he knew what that meant. What it was to be buddies, pals, mates. The stranger before him erect in his nonchalance with eyes closed, forbidding him to look into them. They would tell him what he was thinking, perhaps feeling. But he stood there, strong, and, him, battered and emotionally abused by his malcontent.

Were they still friends? He wanted to ask him but could not. He dared not. He turned away. The decision that would separate their paths or make them go on together was to be made the next day. He walked away. His shoulders were slumped as if two bales of flour were placed on their slender frame. He did not get very far when the fat fingers he knew too well grabbed his hand, arousing his anger. He pulled away and said without turning around, “Well.”

“You can’t look at me?” Morea asked.

“I do not want to see you,” Lee said.

“Then why’d you come? You know tomorrow is the day—” His fist quickly went up, indicating to him not to say another word. He walked away—faster. The anger like a virus spreading to his legs. “Lee! Lee!” He continued walking as the voice grew further and further away. Tomorrow was the day he was most fearful of. He wished that it never came.

“Lee, is that you?”

“Yes.” His mother was sick and he had no money, not enough, to help her. He thought that you did not need a doctor to get better, what you needed was a lot of money. That valuable possession would get you better health care. “Are you okay?”

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“Nowhere. How are you?”

“Waiting for death, why does it take so long?”

“Do not talk like that?”

“Does it make you angry?”

“It makes me feel worthless,” he said, jerking his chair away as depression tried to strangle his anger.

“Where are you going?”

“To get you some tea.” He went outside instead. He kicked how he was feeling, the dirt going up and then crashing down, wearied from being disturbed. He put his hands in his pockets and continued kicking. When he got tired of doing that, he spoke softly to the darkness. It listened.

Poverty is my master; anger and sadness my friends. Is this all that will be to my life? Starless night overhead of our small house, cramped with suffocation of not having enough, enough to eat, enough to wear, enough to buy—I have had enough. Is there no light? Will there be no light? He grew quiet, as if waiting for a response. None came. The darkness grew thicker, as if a whole week of nights were rolled up into one.

His father had been dead for three years and, since then, his mother was sick. Her mental anguish and his permanent absence were draining away her health. They were always poor; the fate of some people he angrily accepted. But his father never allowed them to be poor-mouth. He always seemed to be the positive in the negative. But he was dead. When he was born, he called him Lee. That was twenty-seven years ago.

He was his best friend. The decision maker. Morea, older by one year and wiser by none; married and expecting his first child. He should have turned around. He felt he should have turned around.

“Lee, where’s my tea?!”

All was not serene. It was like a hammer pounding on peace as the hours traveled on. He sat on the edge of his bed, anxiety joining him. He was listening to the clock furiously ticking away, as if eagerly rushing to the appointed time of decision.

The first time he met him was in a restaurant. He did not have enough money to pay for the food he had ordered. Morea, standing behind him and hearing and seeing what was going on, offered to pay the remaining that was owed. Forty-seven cents. Embarrassment mingled with anger overcame him as he wrestled with gratefulness for the help from a stranger. Stranger, friend, what was he to him now? He did not know.

But he smiled at that memory. They helped each other. He told him his secrets, his dreams, things that he never told his parents. And when his father died, he was there, comforting him, listening to him as he poured out his heart. He was there. But there changed two weeks ago.

He was tired. If only he could sleep. He needed it so badly, but it evaded him. Or rather, he pushed it away, only calling it momentarily when he took a painkiller. He took one.

The day after, he yearned for the sun but the rain made that impossible. The raindrops were teardrops. He knew it. He did everything with trembling hands, the breakfast, his bath, brushing his straight black hair, trying to put those buttons through his company’s work shirt buttonholes that he had done a thousand times before. Even opening the door to his mother’s room, his hands shook. He was quiet, not wanting to wake her.

Why is death taking so long? If it wants to come, then come. But do not make the journey long, he thought as he stood there looking at her, feeling disconnected from joy.

He waited for the rain to stop before he went to see him. Any other day he would have enjoyed the blessing from the clouds, but a blessing it was not. He would be late for work. The first time that happened.

Packed boxes welcomed him, not the ‘How are you?’ that Morea always asked when seeing him. The decision he felt he made was confirmed. His best friend became the friend of another—at a price. Money bought what he thought was safely cemented. He turned away. He was always turning away, but he really did not want to be seen, not by him.

He received his answer. Without a word, he got what he knew already. No need to hang around. He wanted not to be like a doe-eyed girl being told by her cheating lover why he cheated was not his fault. His footsteps he began to take away secretly until he was discovered.

“We’re expecting our first child.”

“You do not know him.” He sounded as if he was begging, but for what? He rubbed his slim fingers nervously through his hair. There was a loud silence that none of them wanted. It made his heart sink further. “How much is seven years worth?”

“He’s lonely,” he said.

“So, his loneliness will disappear? Buying your friendship will make him happy? Will it make you happy?” he asked his voice cracking.

“You don’t understand. Here’s a chance for me and my wife to leave poverty behind,” he reasoned. “For our child, when it’s born, not to experience what we’ve had to endure. A stranger came to me two weeks ago and told me to choose our friendship or a chance to leave this place. I’ve chosen what’s best for my family. I’ve chosen right,” he asserted as if declaring victory over something.

“Right? How can you say that? How can you choose a stranger’s false friendship over our real one? Because of money? Because you do not want to be poor anymore?” he asked his voice rising.

“Calm down, Lee. I don’t want my wife to hear you,” he said with impatience.

“Let her hear. Let everyone hear what being friends with you mean. Go and may you be miserable in your new wealth as I am in my old poverty.”

The puddles in his way felt the brunt of his anger as he stamped away, sinking in his regret at the words he spoke. A needless argument with his boss for being late, unfocused hours at a machine he had grown to hate followed. But it was work. Being book educated did not give him a degree, only dreams he knew not how to make real. He knew some crawled or walked out of poverty; others stayed and died, helplessly, angrily.

After work, the weather was dreary as him as he made his way home. What was waiting for him? Misery and his mother—at times double-teaming on him. He took a detour. Standing across the street from the place he vowed never to go, voices going off in his head. One telling him to go home; the other telling him to go in. He listened to the one he made the loudest and headed for the bar. He reached for the door handle, gripping it hard as a stormy sea of second thoughts rushed through his mind, crashing against his fear. “Lee.” He frightfully turned around and saw no one. The voice that called out his name was familiar, hearing it for the last time three years ago. He headed for home but somehow found himself standing outside Morea’s house. It was empty. He was gone. He knocked on the door. No answer. It was still empty.

His words ended a friendship he did not want to end. But if he knew what his decision was going to be, he could not understand why he reacted the way he did. Why was he so angry at something anticipated? To take those words back, to never have them said was what he wanted. He knew that could not happen.

They lived thirty minutes apart. Both visited each other homes, weather not prohibiting them. What a difference two weeks brought. His journey home was longer.

“Lee, is that you?” his mother asked as he entered.

Who else could it be was what he wanted to say. But he said, “Yes.”

“Why are you so late?”

“How are you?”

Waiting for death, why does it take so long? Where were you?”

“Nowhere.”

“Morea was here.”

“Morea?” he asked his lips trembling. “What did he want?”

“He came to see how I was doing. So nice of him. That is a true friend.”

“Was that all?” he asked, checking his tone.

“Huh?”

“Did he say anything else?”

“No.”

“Wealth maketh many friends, but the poor is separated from his neighbor.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get you some tea.”

He went outside instead. Looking up into the night sky, he wanted to cry. But his anger refused to let in sadness. Maybe it was not an orange that was like madness, it was a lemon. He did not make lemonade.

This story is an original idea written by me.© Thanks for reading.

See you next Tuesday, God willing. 🙂

First Story Parent Me

Second Story Motherland

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