The myriad of scuffs reach out across his worn leather shoes – like a maze, he thinks, and momentarily loses focus. Then he remembers. Katrina. He checks his watch and realises she’s late. She’s never late. Looking through the wire fence he stares at an old lady pushing a chequered shopping trolley along the pavement, the plastic wheels shuddering along the rutted paving slabs. He follows her slow progress, fists tight around the handle bar, spine bowed and crooked, head stooped towards the ground. Steadily, she struggles on, despite her inability to see the path ahead, fully trusting, or without a choice.
When Katrina phoned last night he could tell something was wrong. He could hear it in her voice. When he asked her what it was, she said she had to see him. She had to do this in person, not over the phone. For the remainder of the call he fought against the questions and rambled on about his day, the parts she hadn’t shared, and would otherwise never know. When the details were finally exhausted, she sighed and said goodbye. I love you, he replied, as the dial tone whispered without affection.
For the rest of the evening he was restless, unable to alleviate the tension bulging beneath his skin. Something was wrong, but no matter how hard he scrutinized the variables, none of them made sense. Nothing made sense, and as he lay in bed trying to decide what it could be, he wondered whether it was, somehow, his fault. Everything was his fault, according to his mother, even her drinking. Eventually, he fell asleep, and awoke more tired than before, the sheets drenched with sweat, his brain deciphering the daylight.
Sitting alone on the bench he can’t understand it, and struggles to accept what’s happening, even though he doesn’t know what it is. All he knows is that he wants to stay with her forever, despite his age and inexperience. She is the one, and he wants to be a part of her life, beyond the present and the promise of tomorrow. This is it, his chance at happiness, and he’s fucked if he’s gonna give up without a fight. He will not let her go. This, he knows, is worth it.
Unbuttoning his collar he pulls at the knot of his tie and leans forward, elbows pressing into his knees, the palms of his hands gross and sweaty. He wipes them on his trousers and stares down between his legs, a solitary ant treading circles, over and over again. He notices a bottle cap; Budweiser, and instantly feels the craving for a beer. And a cigarette. Or a joint. But he has neither, so he looks up and searches between the mass of moving bodies for the one which makes him happy, the one that makes his world a better place, more than any addiction he’s witnessed, and survived.
Finally, he sees her, walking through the crowd towards him. She is as beautiful as always, though when he looks harder he can see the stress etched across her face. He tries to smile but she looks away, and before he knows it, the fear is back. The prospect of abandonment grips him and he doubles over and clutches his stomach, his lungs tight and heavy. Relax, he thinks. You don’t know what’s gonna happen. Come on, breathe, calm down. Stop being stupid. Stop it. Now. It has to be something else. It has to be. Please, let it be something else. Anything else. Right. That’s it. Enough. Whatever it is, you’re about to find out. Get a grip. Man up. Grow some fucking balls.
He stands and nervously moves towards her, his feet weighted by trepidation. When she reaches him he leans in for a kiss but she turns her face, his lips landing on the bow of her cheek. ‘Hi’, he says, and waits for a reply which doesn’t come. ‘Sit down.’ He gestures towards the bench. ‘I’ve saved you a seat.’ As he waits he notices the old lady walking down the road again. This time she lifts her head and looks at him, her eyes gleaming beneath a knotted rain bonnet. She smiles at him, and just like that, he understands. He gets it. There’s nothing left to do but face it all head on, be it up, or down, or neither.
‘What’s wrong?’ He asks, and watches Katrina sit on the bench. ‘What’s happening?’
‘I’m pregnant.’ She replies.
And there it is. Not a what. A who.
‘I don’t know.’ She inhales deeply and shakes her head.
‘I…’ He tries to think of something to say, but before he can she bursts into tears and all the words just slip away. She’s pregnant. Katrina. My Katrina. Pregnant, with my baby – our baby. A baby. Fuck.
He sits beside her, and out of nowhere, thinks about the tree. He thinks about their first date, then the second, and third, and the one after that, until they found themselves beneath the tree, no longer under pressure to talk. He remembers staring up at the branches, listening to the wind, and settling on the sky. When he pressed his palm against the bark and closed his eyes, he could feel it pulse beneath. It survived the storms, the bombs, the people; grew stronger every day. It was old, ancient even, but age was nothing, nothing but roots.
He reaches out, takes her hand, and squeezes hard to let her know he’s in it for the long haul. The bell rings and it’s the end of recess. Three more hours of teachers and tiring lectures. Books and blackboards and words that mean nothing, not anymore. The lessons are bullshit, none of them about what to do, about how to cope, about how to be a man, even when the boy is still emerging. They stand together to join the forming lines of other kids, the ones with families, siblings, parents. I will be a good father, Darren whispers. The one I never had.
Photo by Aleksei Drakos.
You can discover more about Aleksei and his photography by following the link below:
We are keen to collaborate with other artists, so if you would like to see see your photography or artwork featured on STORGY, drop us a line and introduce yourself.