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Friday, May 6, 2011

The house that Jim built

    After what seems an eternity, the afternoon sun gently glares down at the houses as I drive down the tree lined path looking for my house. It was late in the afternoon on a lazy Sunday afternoon when I finally reached home from the hectic weekend shopping. It had been raining on and off, yet the skies finally managed to clear as I wound my way home.

    Stopping the car in front of my house, I get out to see my two kids wrestling each other to see who’s the king of the hill. As a breeze gently rustles the trees leaves and ruffles through my hair ever so softly, I hear children voices heading my way and as they round they turn, they run off towards the park as they chase each other through the shrubs and weave through the trees. The voices fade away and I wonder how so much time has flown by so quickly. Drawn by the voices, the kids notice me and one of them run off inside to tell momma while the other one tries to tackle me. Falling to the ground, we roll off some distance and the little kid tells me with a huge smile that he’s won. Letting the kid climb on top, he sits on my shoulder as we walk towards the house which is finally a home to see what my little lady is up to.

    Pulling the door key out of my raincoat, I opened the door to hear the phone ringing madly. The misses picks it up, listens intently, says a few words and finally gestures for me to come as it is for me. Looking through the door at the still open car, I decided to handle the caller first and then deal with the groceries later. “Hello”. “Hi. I’m Cathy from Jones & Jones attorney. Can I please speak to Mr Smith?” “Speaking” I said cautiously “Hello Mr Smith. We need to talk and its urgent. When can we meet? Is tomorrow ok at 2:00 PM?” Thinking it over, I replied “I can meet you right now within fifteen minutes if you can free up a slot for me. I’ll meet either one of the Jones at the café as I have to pick up the account books and see if they are running my baby like it should”.

    Putting away the groceries, I started to think the past events that might have led to this. Groceries which were running low were now fully restocked, yet a few medicines still needed to be bought, a much needed haircut needs to be gotten, my bank a visit to deposit an application and the diminishing wardrobe needs to be replenished. To top it off, I needed to placate my rioting stomach. Calling up the taxi service, I told them to send one immediately as the matter was urgent and wandered off to the kitchen to grab a mug of coffee and a cold cut sandwich. Minutes seemed to drag by and fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity.

    A persistent horn broke me out of the stupor I had fallen in. Dragging myself out of the chair, I grabbed by jacket, turned off the lights and headed out the door. Standing near the base of the stairs, I hollered that I am off to the café to meet the lawyers and don’t know when I’ll be back. Getting inside the dimly lit taxi, I gave directions and went back to my thoughts. I told the taxi driver to hurry even though I knew he was driving as fast as the traffic would permit. My mind was troubled by the phone call which I had received just a short while back. A country music station was on blaring Jonny cash song and my mind drifted to the past events in what seemed like another bygone age.

    I only had one person whom I could call my friend. The others were just empty pieces of husks that seemed like they would scatter at the slightest hint of storm. It was all about power, muscles, constant fights and who was able to keep the king of the hill position while intimidating others to make sure they kept a distance. Looking back, it seemed like we were as different as two people can be. Yet, with the passage of time we became so close to each other that it seemed like we were inseparable. I had a lonely childhood as I never had any siblings and Jimmy not only became my best friend but also acted like a protective elder brother. He was always one of those type of kids who was always ready to lend a hand to others when the need arose.

    He never had an easy life as his father always used to hit the bottle and there was hardly anything left of the Friday’s paycheck. There were the usual arguments, money going down the drain and the constant threat of eviction. They made do with what they had and he desperately wanted out of this grimy blue collar town. People were born here, worked in the factory a few miles down, hit the pubs, came home and the cycle was repeated till they passed away. The only way out was education yet he did not even have the basic skill set to pass the small quizzes that the teacher gave out on a weekly basis.

    He never quite fitted in the class since he always stood out like a sore thumb. Black leather jacket, boots and greased back hair was what he came in on a daily basis. This was who he was and others had to accept him as he was or leave him be was his attitude. One fine day, he came to school and he seemed like a changed person. No more laid back attitude. The grit, determination and the desire to succeed where others had failed which was missing before was shining in him like a light house beacon on a dark stormy light. He stayed up all night correcting his deficiencies. He mugged up the math tables and relearned English the right way. Somehow he passed each and every quiz that the teacher gave to the class and eventually graduated the local college with a decent grade.

    Things began to look up for him and it seemed like we had to go our separate ways. We kept in touch with each other whenever our paths crossed. The town was never the same and it seemed to have been drained of its essence. The same crowd was seen plying the single road town, going through the same routine yet it had changed overnight for me. I moved on myself and shifted to a different town. Life moved on, got a good job and I finally settled down. With the passage of time, I had all but forgotten my previous life until this fateful morning.

    The taxi cab horn woke me up from the sleep that I had drifted off to and I realized that the taxi driver gesturing that we had reached the destination. A man was seen sitting in one of the tables inside the café. A man emerged from the shadows of the store and introduced himself as the family lawyer. He apologized for calling me in such a short notice yet the matter required urgency. It seemed that even though time had flown by, Jims inner self had not changed at all even though he had become quite wealthy. He still retained the same need to help out the ones who were in trouble without paying any heed to his own safety. It seemed that he had gone to a local deli to buy some sandwiches and a bottle of Pepsi, when he walked into a store where a hold up was in progress. The man threaten to shoot all if the cash box wasn’t handed over while the cashier tried to explain in vain that it was way past closing time and the manager had already taken it away some time back. Trying to reason with the gunman, Jim suffered gunshot wounds and died on the spot.

    The lawyer seemed to drone on and on about completing the formalities concerning his assets which consisted of his house besides other things, yet I was lost in my own thoughts. It is one of those old fashioned neighborhoods and the house is as old as the town itself. In my minds eye, a cobblestone road ran next to the waterway which runs through the middle of the town and it winds its way in front of the house and finally off into the distance. The town always seemed to wear a deserted except for the drop outs from the high school that used to frequent the Pops Soda and Chips store. They always seemed to be in the midst of a pool game or a game of cards and at other times they used to race down the main street in their souped up cars every so often before quieting down once more. The younger crowd that used to stop at the gas and food joint broke the monotony of the town even though it was for a short while. The blaring horns and revving of the engines could be heard a mile away and people tolerated them as it brought in the extra income to the town. Waking up from the dreamlike state I had fallen in, I heard that the house was still there yet it was an abandoned house now. The windows were broken and all boarded up, pigeons, bats and other creatures had made what was once a sprawling mansion their dwelling.

    The formalities were completed and I headed home later on in the evening. The emptiness never got filled even with the passage of time. The world seemed even emptier now at this news. Even though I had a family to call my own, I felt like there was no one else to walk besides me and the one who lent his support was gone. My sun burned gaunt face turned towards the window as the harsh winds that refused to die down swept through the mind. Images of the past slowly flashed before my eyes as I relived my past. Trying to clutch it and never let go, yet the creaking and swinging branches outside the window startled me out of the dark thoughts I had fallen into. There was silence before I broke down for what seemed to be an eternity. I had lost my anchor in life long time back and I still felt like I was cast adrift on a stormy ocean with no land in sight. A firm hand on my shoulder brought me back. The misses told me that I had to be a man. The past is gone and can’t be undone. One must learn to let go and the inner wounds shall heal. Life always comes a full circle at the end I was told. and the only things which we can hold on to are the memories