Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Punishments and Rewards

We met in the café. He seemed to look out at me, as though he’d stayed at home. I felt very far away. He took a deep breath.

“Gina visited,” he told me. “She told me that she loves me.”

There are times when a sentence is so at variance with its setting that you doubt firstly that you heard it right, and, if so, that you are going mad. I looked at a bleak, defeated man, and heard the words that I knew he’d spent his entire adult life waiting for. Obviously there was some kind of catch.

“You remember Deborah?” he asked. I did. I met her about a year before. Strictly on-the-side material, a girl he’d barely wanted to introduce to me but who he’d kept on through dry times. “Got her pregnant,” he said, flatter than Kansas.

Grey eyes. He seemed to have built himself one particular facial expression and cemented it in place. A kind of pensive, downcast look, like that of someone who’s still waiting for a bus even though he’s missed the job interview. Not so bad that old ladies would stop him in the street, but the kind of guy to whom you’d say, “might never happen” and he could reply, “already has.”

So Deborah was pregnant. That was a minor disaster, although of course it wasn’t at all, and he knew it. In fact, he went on to say, he was quite happy about it. But then Gina had turned up, the cheetah among the pigeons. “She told me that she loves me.”

Another deep breath. He was moving air the way Sisyphus moves rocks, slowly, without enthusiasm. I was beginning to join in. I could see the problem. If you loved someone and you continued to love them, over years and years and you gave up, you moved on – although moving on implies somewhere to go – and then, when the die has been cast, when the window has shut, they come back, and tap on the glass…

“The worst thing,” he said, as though at a funeral, “is that I can’t even kill myself, because of the kid.”

There was a short pause while we digested that little statement.

Punishment and rewards. If only you were punished immediately for your transgressions, then nobody would ever do any. It’s the waiting around for your karma that does it, you never know which of your doings you’re being punished for.

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