The grey haired man hadn’t fallen asleep in a while. He always looked tired and had bags under his eyes. He never looked directly at anyone. He wouldn’t speak unless he was spoken to. He occasionally returned greetings. He was moody and morose and usually kept to himself. In the three years his colleagues had known him, he hadn’t taken a day off ever and nobody had seen him smile. Nobody knew where he lived. They didn’t know why he behaved the way he did. And when nothing changed after a long time, the stories began. Things worsened. People avoided making eye contact with him. It was inevitable. They’d all been part of a conversation about him most of the time, he knew that. He didn’t bother to confront anyone.
Gradually, his colleagues stopped talking. Either they were bored, or they had a new topic. He didn’t mind. He went about his work as usual. On a Wednesday, the office had a promising new intern Anwar. The man took Anwar under his wing and decided to show him the ropes on the job. It was mostly because he was new and hadn’t heard the rumors. The man was very good at what he did but somehow all his brilliance went unappreciated – the stories had done their job.
Anwar was impressed – eight hours with the man had taught him a lot more than he had learned in his entire life. He was caught out of his trance when the man started coughing mid-sentence and didn’t stop. He was having a fit. Luckily, Anwar was able to revive him. A few minutes later, the man went on talking as if nothing had happened. The man never looked at his watch but ended the session right on time for lunch.
At lunch, Anwar made friends. They shared the stories and told him that he was the first intern the man had ever taken on. He was intrigued. He could understand that there was more to the man than the stories. He wanted to ask so many questions when they continued after lunch, but held them all in. He was beyond surprised when the man started packing up while still talking and then looked at him expectantly saying, “I’d like you to see where I live”. Anwar tried his best to not look startled and followed him out of the room with his bag.
They had walked for twenty minutes when the man stopped before a gate and announced, “Here we are.” He unlocked the door and led Anwar inside. They both sat down on the sofa in the living room. The man took a breath and then started talking, “I noticed you were bursting with questions after lunch hour. I know you must have been fed with countless stories about me. Only one of them is true – you are, indeed, the first intern I’ve ever taken on. The rest – well, I haven’t heard of it. And since you are the first and the last visitor here, I want you to know the real story. Be warned though, it’s not as interesting as the tales you’ve heard so far…
I was an ambitious young man, a workaholic to be precise. I never had time for those who mattered to me. I never changed my son’s diapers. I never joined my wife on her shopping trips. I never accompanied my parents to their monthly health check-up. I only cared about making money and a title. One day, I promised my wife I would pick her up after her visit to her parents. I was so caught up in work that I forgot. She took a cab . I don’t know who was at fault for that accident – the driver or me – but I lost my son and wife that day. I was devastated. I hadn’t felt so depressed in my life. I even contemplated joining them at one point….”
The man stood up and paced the room. He gestured Anwar to follow him. Anwar stared at the room filled with all sorts of toys. The room beside that was filled with books and photographs of a very happy family. The man took out a book from the shelf and stroked its cover, “My wife had a library of her favorite books. She’d just read the same parts of the same books over and over again and laugh and cry. I see her face reflected on all those pages of books I started to read after her…I tried to make up for lost time with my son by showering him with expensive playthings. I wish I’d just come home early those days.”
Anwar was at a loss for words. He looked up at the man questioningly and he said, ” I see myself in you. When you walked in today – anxious and confident at the same time – it was like watching myself from years ago, at my first interview. I know this sounds far-fetched but I don’t want you to make the same mistakes. For a future that hasn’t begun yet, you have a lot to go on with. I moved several places after losing my family but never conquered the guilt. I’ve taught you all I know. I’m going back home now..”
“You’re leaving, sir? Have you resigned already? But nobody told me.. Will you be coming back?” The man just smiled. That’s when Anwar noticed that there were several boxes in the house. A little more packing, and there would be nothing left. It had been a long, long day.
“Yes, I’m leaving. And about people telling you.. it’s because nobody knows. I want you to tell them. Not my story, but that I’m not coming back. I need to spend my last days on my own, with all those beautiful memories. I’ve never been good at goodbyes. Can you do this for me, Anwar?”
Anwar nodded and the two men shook hands like long-lost friends. Anwar glanced around the house one last time, looking at a life of guilt and devastation. He was determined to not be that person. The men parted ways, never to meet again but left an impact on each other. Most stories end in the most abrupt manner, just when you think there was more to know. This one isn’t any different.