The Prestige of a Higher Morality

Back in the time when money was particularly harsh on me, and it reflected both in the work I did and the clothes I wore, I had to resolve to meagre jobs to succour the things I loved. All petty skills acquired over time were carefully sorted in accordance to their feasibility, meaning that I would be a pick up driver during the day and clean up at a bar during nights. The people I knew were usually on the other end of the money exchange, which I didn’t mind. There was always this sense of false dignity about getting paid, which I felt was just the ride uphill. Between this day-night cycle, I would find a breather only on weekends.

A breather and a pack of smokes to embrace it. And much like a pack of smokes, a breather too had to be paid for, which meant I would be found working in the East Village as an events photographer. My weekend labour rules were pretty clear; to work without inhibitions and to get paid both in cash and in peace. My boss had a pretty clear picture of this idea and hence would never bugger me with projects. I might have been the last resort he had as a photographer but when this town was smaller, everyone was a freelancer in between jobs.

I would have to be payed twice the money to ever photograph a funeral, but when the name David Armitage was mentioned, I felt I had to repay some debts. David was our local delivery man, who had migrated down south when he was just 19. At that time, people were both new to idea of people migrating from the northern cities, and settling up in East Village. I would hear my uncle mention his antics to his buddies over a Carter’s Black cigarette, now a household brand bringing prosperity to the Carters as well as to the rest of East Village. It took a while for me to recognise David by his name, I was more familiar to him being called the “Old Fibster”. The Old Fibster was known for his poorly constructed, worthless lies which solved no other purpose than gaining him attention. Since the attention he got was short-lived, his lies would start getting more elaborate and distressing over time.

It was after the annual East Village Fair fiasco, that the whole community decided to put an end to his debauchery with the truth. He told everyone that he would bring in Danny Bonanza, the rising star of pop in the country at that time, with whom he had allegedly studied in school and was great friends with. Never had I ever seen such crowds at any of East Village’s gatherings, or any gatherings for that matter, all dressed up in spending pants  and ready to be dazzled.Much like all of his lies, the Old Fibster failed to present evidence. The mayor decided to put him behind bars, but lies that hurt someone’s feelings often do not fall under perjury.

The city court was very much influenced by the doings of the church and decided to let them take care of the matter. Even in the 20th century, we would let a church decide the sanctity of a man’s indecent actions. Since David was catholic, he did not mind an awful lot, even though he always pleaded not guilty. In fact over time, he was drawn to the intermittent activities of the church. It was there where he met his wife, Eliza Budworth, a mute child of the church. She would be seen doing the choirs that David’s shabby hands couldn’t perform. Some said they were meant to be together. What more could a pathological liar ask for other than a wife who would believe everything he says?

I owed much more to Eliza than I ever did to David. Growing up in the neighbourhood, Eliza was always a figure that every child looked up to. She would let us play in her lawn, with her lawn and would always back up our tiring summer afternoons with treats. She never really decided to learn sign or write, but there were multiple layers to her omnipresent smile. As we grew up from kids to kids trapped in bodies of men, all my friends gave up on the companionship of Eliza. I was a troubled teen aged kid. I don’t know if anyone has told you this, but we don’t like to hear but to be heard. Silent evenings with Eliza helped me understand the symphony of life, for life was both still and singing. That was around the time I got into the art of photography and the sight of Eliza sitting ever so peacefully, looking into the sunset was the first ever real photograph that I had taken.

As I drove towards County Church, I checked the dashboard of my 78′ Figo Montana to make sure I had what was required to clear my debts. The time of dusk was a serene one in the country side. The thought that Eliza had made more peace with her life than most of us ever would, kept running across my mind. It wasn’t too long before I reached the service. Everything at the funeral did justice to Eliza’s taste. There were lilacs arranged in a very scarce yet genteel manner, the smell of freshly prepared cranberry sauce, children running all around and David himself. It seemed like the Old Fibster had managed to cheat ageing after all, looking the exact amount of dull that he used to. There was this anxiousness on his face in the form of a half hearted frown. I felt like offering him a cigarette, but I was worried he wouldn’t recognise me. So I took out my camera and began my work. I was walking around trying to do what I do, without getting into the way of others. That’s when I stumbled across the casket of Eliza Budworth. A beautiful forest coloured oak wood coffin, strangely no name inscribed. In laid Eliza, ever so majestic. Her honey coloured hair spoke of her ageless inheritance of pleasingness and the wrinkles on her face were caress in a timeless manner. She would always smile with her eyes, and seeing them shut did not bring the best of feelings at heart.

David tried to keep himself busy in every possible way he could but the tell-tale signs were there. Often he would just take out time in the middle and close his eyes to let go of, but it was all too little to get a hold of himself.He would gather enough courage to utter some nice things about his wife here and there but that’s about as much as he could do. By then even he knew that soon it would be his time to go up there and bid his wife farewell. We all knew it would be tough for him, for she was the cure when he himself knew nothing about his own pain.

He stumbled a couple of times before stepping up to the podium. He nodded in respect towards the pastor, whose father once had a great influence during his recovery. He reached towards the casket and kissed his wife’s hands before warmly embracing them. He was in no hurry as he slowly proceeded to address the people waiting in condolence.

“Growing up in a lower middle class family in Edbinton, I would often be told by my father that the true companionship of life was in the stories we told and the people we told them to. But what did he know, the man had killed himself before his son could fully understand what he meant…” said David, taking distinctive pauses in between. There was a different silence in the room, a kind unfamiliar even to a church. No one had known about this fact, and the ones that knew were already dead.

He continued,” And seeing my only companion here, all my stories seem lost. LOST but worthwhile. Certainly not worthless. For before meeting Eliza, I had tried to be hero for so long, and that my friends, was really worthless. There was just something about the silence on her face, an ever glowing silence that spoke to me. And we decided not to be heroes for once. We understood that we don’t get to control how life goes about. Then why try so hard at being the protagonist? Illusions are prompt. Magic is not. Let’s just give up the race and be on the sidelines.”

We all saw him smile for the first time that day. He looked back at Eliza, smiled and continued again, ” And we watched our years go by. Placing tiny bets on destiny. It wasn’t easy. At times I wanted to run out in the wild, falling for illusions all over again.  But this woman, this beautiful, graceful hell of a woman, always kept a seat for me. ALWAYS. A corner seat, a soft spot in heart and some rock hard approval in her arms. And today with all the bumps on the road behind us, we let time time reflect the greyness of my hair and the beauty behind those wrinkles of hers. And when I look back at our distant years, I understand why MAGIC takes time.”

By this time, even the bolder ones of us were in tears.Tears that would make me realise that  it took me 21 years and 243 days to understand how magic and medicine work. And while I paid my final dues to her, I also realised what a nonchalant angel she was. I decided that it was now time for me to confront David. My debts would certainly never be repaid today or in the near future. For I had gained more than I had to give. To my wonder he remembered every bit of me. He mentioned my father, my red bicycle and over sized spectacles from when I was a kid. I stood there, having this urgent sense of respect for him.

Before I could mention the photograph of his wife smiling, looking at the sunset, he broke the silence by saying,” You have something that belongs to me now. I let you hold on to it for a really long time but I believe you owe it to me. Don’t worry..I have a decent offer for you..” I interrupted him by saying,” Indeed. I believe this is yours. I would ask you to cherish it but I know you already have.” I handed him the photograph and started to walk away. He stopped me, while looking for something in his coat pockets. He took another photograph from his pocket and handed it to me.

It was a photograph of him standing next to Danny Bonanza, with the ‘East Village Carnival of 69’ banner right behind him. He said nothing. He did not need to. Everything that had happened that day had in it a deep sense of understanding, both of the human mind as well as that of the human heart.

After some years when I had successfully established a career as a lawyer, I met him at court one day. I feared that he had fallen prey to his old habits, but reassuringly that wasn’t the case. The Old Fibster had finally retired.

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