An old man fell in my dream. He had been walking with his daughter and several others, friends and family, when he lost his footing and tripped on a gutter. Down he tumbled like a stack of cards, so unsteady his legs and joints, and to my horror half of his face fell off.
He had endured surgery I knew now for like Sigmund Freud and Lucy Grealy the old man’s face, which had earlier been eaten away by cancer, had been reconstructed.
A dream like this begins my day. Faceless and deformed the old man grabbed back at the bits that had fallen into the gutter and stuck them on haphazardly – rather like a jigsaw puzzle piece that does not fit in – and urged his daughter to take him home, home and out of sight.
I do not want to be interrupted by the detritus of my days or nights, but I cannot seize on more lofty thoughts until I have cleared my head of my most pressing ones. It is rare that I am without pressing thoughts.
For the next two weeks I will have more time to concentrate on my thesis but soon enough I will be back into the thrall of daily work and it will once more become difficult to get those chapters into shape. So many words to write.
‘Do I have a first draft?’ my friend asked me yesterday at lunch?
No, I do not. I have so much written, though, so much that could be cobbled together to form a draft, but it is not yet in place.
I will get there in time. I am determined. I must. And so to work…
But a little voice tells me to stay with this writing. Stay. It might yet lead somewhere. I am too riddled with conscious thoughts. Too much driven by the need to complete my thesis. Too unwilling to write about yesterday’s lunch. Yesterday’s lunch in an Indian restaurant on Burwood Road.
I arrived and realised I had brought next to no cash with me. I would need to use my card. My friend was late. He ordered immediately. He knew what he was about. He ordered two curries and some naan and then he sat back down. I stood and fumbled. This rich food in the middle of the day was too much for me, but to order anything else seemed difficult. I came for the company, anyhow. I did not come for the food.
I tried to speak softly to the girl at the counter.
‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ I selected curries that had some vague appeal, the eggplant and the mixed vegetable. Instead of naan, I chose rice, but I seemed to speak in a vacuum, as if I did not know what I was about.
I dragged out my card thinking this order must come to at least ten dollars but I was wrong. My friend stood up to offer to pay but I had five dollars left in my purse and the whole dreadful exchange with the young and pleasant Indian woman was over in an instant.
Conversation was what I came for,
‘You have been ill?’ I said to my friend, more as a question than as a statement. ‘Yes,’ he said, though he was not forthcoming. It seemed he did not want to talk about it.
‘I’m working two days a week,’ he said.
‘Do you prefer that?’
‘No. The writing is too slow.’
Momentarily, I thought about this from my own perspective, that in such circumstances I might enjoy more space for writing. He looked well enough.
‘No,’ he said again. ‘I write for a living, and it is very slow, too slow.’
It was clear then my friend did not want to discuss it further. And I dared not probe, but I joked instead about my own, now recovered, broken leg.
Although my friend, the one whom I mistakenly thought had abandoned our friendship, will talk to me about himself and his life in small doses, it seems he prefers to hear about my life, my goings on.
We had a whole year on which to catch up and I could tell him about my family reunion, my interminable thesis, my daughter’s marriage, but beyond that the conversation flagged. I had hoped it might fly. It might prove exhilarating. After an hour my friend needed to get back to his work and I felt a wash of relief.
Who would say it first during our goodbyes? I wondered.
‘We must not leave it a whole year next time,’ my friend said. And then I knew, most likely we would leave it a whole year. Most likely we would leave it for more than a year, unless I made contact again. But will I?
I do not want to foist myself on someone who finds time with me a chore, whose only pleasure derives from the odd witty thing I might say and from his curiosity about this odd woman.
I do not want a relationship that feels so one-sided as to leave me the needy and desperate one. I have made up my mind in this regard. I will not become a stalker, a desperado. I will not subject myself to the humiliation of unrequited love ever, ever again.
I shall not attempt to analyse my dream and the different voices that battle inside here, except in my head.
Some of the dream, to some of you here, may be self-evident: this old man who tumbles down, whose face is broken, whose life has changed becomes a metaphor for…
Stop now, I say.
It is time once more to do battle with my thesis.