This story was written to a prompt ‘silver linings’ on penmancy. It secured me the first position in the competition.
NEW YORK, JULY 24TH 2011
‘So, you’re gay?’
‘Yep! I am.’
‘Erm…No…Sorry, what I meant was…sorry, what I mean is that I’m fascinated. I’ve never met a gay before?’
‘Aah! That explains it then. So you’ve never met a ‘gay person’ before or never met a ‘gay man’?’
Was that a twinkle I saw in his eyes? Now I was confused. Was there a difference? I mean, gay is gay, right? No two ways about that. He must have sensed my confusion.
‘Let me elaborate. A ‘gay person’ is just a happy person. He may or may not be a ‘gay man’. But, a ‘gay man’ is most definitely gay.
My perplexity and probably some degree of discomfort must have been a clue for he did not continue beyond that.
‘So, are you prejudiced?’ he asked suddenly, turning to me.
‘Prejudiced? Why? What against?’ I was truly confused. This man confused me. I sensed that behind his genial appearance, lurked deep thoughts.
‘A lot of people hold deep prejudice against gays? Do you too?’ he asked. It was quite direct, his question and left me a bit nonplussed.
‘Er…no, certainly not,’ I mumbled even though that was not strictly true.
Truth be told, although I did not hold any prejudice, I was still wary of the homosexual community. I did not find homosexuality outright ugly but yes, I was uncomfortable with the idea. In my forty odd bachelor years on Earth, I had had limited contact with anyone from the community and frankly speaking it was not an experience I wanted. My conservative, native Wyoming, background also impeded my understanding of the community and hence I did not know how to behave around them, what to say to them or what kind of talk (even small talk) to make. I did find their display of public affection rather perverse. I mean I was fine with them so long as they confined their love to their homes. Their flagrant parades, their blatant disregard of other peoples’, well the majority’s at least, feelings did not sit well with me.
Today our conversation had begun as co-passengers on the subway train. He had been speaking to his boyfriend on the phone. I know that because once he hung up he told me himself, so giddy he was with excitement.
‘That was my boyfriend. Today is a happy day.’
His statement and his positively radiant smile had prompted my query.
‘He certainly is gay,’ I thought now. Yes, I finally understood what he meant by that. In fact, he was quite a gay ‘gay’. I smiled at that, my own funny little joke.
Anyway, I alighted at my regular stop, bidding him a bye. It was time to go to work, time to forget my gay encounter
The next day found me on the same train again. Yes, you guessed it. I am a creature of habit. Every day I take the same 7:59 to work. Making myself comfortable I was engrossed in the current Twitter feed (scanning for news and not lurking, mind you) when I heard him.
“Hey! It’s you, my friend.’
I looked up. Yep! It was him all right. Dressed in a sunshine yellow jacket, over a sky blue shirt, unbuttoned at the collar and dark blue trousers; he had a matching blue hat perched at a jaunty angle atop his head. A vivid red stripe ran across the width of the hat giving it a casual and yet chic look. His mop of curly brown hair, unruly and untamed, was escaping from under the brim. A scarf in rainbow hues was loosely draped around his neck giving him a well tousled, carefree look. A bag was slung over one shoulder. His entire appearance was, well for want of a better word – gay.
‘Hey, you!’ I acknowledged, sighing inwardly.
You see, I am not really one to indulge in idle banter with co-passengers. In fact, I am by nature quite a loner.
He plonked himself on the vacant seat next to mine. Politeness dictated that I speak to him. With a sigh, I shut off the mobile and turned to him.
‘You seemed rather chipper yesterday. Good news?’
‘Oh. The best…..’
‘Wow. I am happy for you.’
‘Happy, even without knowing the news?’ his eyes crinkled in amusement at my obvious abashment at his words.
‘A wiseass and gay,’ I thought sheepishly. ’Great! Just my luck.’
‘Relax! I’m just messing with you. Don’t be disconcerted. Actually, I was happy because, as of yesterday, gay marriage has been legalized in all fifty states in the U.S. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. So, yes, my friend yesterday was indeed a very happy day,’ he said. ‘And, you know what that means? It means that now my boyfriend and I can be together. We can plan a future.’
‘Well, congratulations.’ I offered.
‘Not yet, not yet. Wait till tomorrow…’ He winked.
I smiled. The train was pulling into my stop. I alit bidding him a bye, slightly warmer than yesterdays. His cavalier, and yes- ‘gay’ attitude, seemed to be rubbing off on me.
The next day saw me eagerly scan the usual throng of humanity in the train. He caught my eye just then, winking impishly back. Today I had saved him a seat. My interest had been piqued yesterday.
‘My friend, today you may congratulate me.’ He said sitting down beside me.
I looked at him. ‘What? Without even knowing the news?’ I shot back grinning.
‘Aah! Touché, Mon’Amie*….touché.’
‘So, you’re French then?’ I asked, as if maybe that would explain his homosexual orientation to me. Stupid, I know.
‘I’m from here and there. A citizen of the world is how I view myself.’ He replied cryptically.
‘So, tell me. What is this big news?’
‘Aah my friend. Did I not tell you yesterday that gay marriage has been legalized in the U.S.?’ he asked, his eyes glinting in childlike glee. I could see that he was dying to share the news but the build up to it was important for him. I let him have his moment.
‘Yep! You sure did.’
‘And, did I also not tell you about my boyfriend, the love of my life?’
‘Yes, you did.’
‘Last night I proposed to him,’ he said triumphantly, grinning like a love struck fool. One look at his beaming face and I knew the story to follow. But, his moment had not come yet so I held my tongue.
I feigned a look of surprise. ‘Really?’So, what did he say? Did he accept?’ I asked eagerly, excited for him.
‘Yes, yes, yes…he said yes.’ Happiness radiated from every pore of his being. I felt the corners of my own mouth lift up in a smile. His bonhomie had sure rubbed off on me and I was genuinely happy for him.
‘So, tell me,’ I said, asking,’who is this lucky young man?’
He fished out his mobile and scrolled the picture gallery till he came to a photograph. I saw two men standing tall and proud, grinning ear to ear. I recognized my new found friend. Next to him in the picture, stood a bespectacled young man, a tall and lanky fellow with dark brown hair. There was none of my friend’s vivacity evident in that chap. He looked almost studious, textbook studious I mean for he had that school boyish look about him.
‘Aah! I see where your thoughts lead?’ he said from beside me. He must have caught something in my expression. He was perceptive that way, much more than anyone else I had ever met. ‘We are like yin and yang, total opposites. I am outgoing, he is shy. I love people, interactions, friendships; he loves his books and the quiet they offer. Yet, we connect. We connect over our likes and our dislikes. We also fight and make up over our likes and dislikes.’
‘So basically like any other normal couple.’ I blurted out. Realizing what I had just said, how insensitive it must have sounded to him, I cast him a chastised look, all ready to apologize. I felt gutted. ‘Damn! What a moronic thing to say,’ I chided myself silently.
But, he laughed then, a deep throaty rumble, very masculine. ‘Oh my friend, don’t worry. You did not hurt me. Your curiosity is refreshing in the face of the storms that I have endured. Rest assured, you did not hurt my sentiments.’
Repentant, I still apologized. I did not want to jeopardize my friendship for that is how I had started to view him, as a friend. Insane, I know but in three flat days this man had endeared himself to me. I did not know much about him, in fact I knew literally nothing but I was still willing to walk with him and call him a friend. He had that quality in him, very beguiling.
‘Isn’t that your stop?’ he said suddenly, catching a glimpse of the station board as the train pulled up.
‘Oh Shoot! Yes, it is. Thanks,’ I mumbled, hastily gathering my things to disembark. So engrossed had I been in our talk that I had missed the announcement on the train.
‘Ciao*,’ he called as I got off. I waved in return, offering a smile.
I did not like the way I had acted and berated myself silently as I walked the distance to my office. I am usually a pretty stoic individual. I guess my years of work as an accountant have made me like that. My friends often tell me that I have the perfect poker face. Anyhow, poker faced or not, today I had slipped up and there was no excuse for my behaviour.
‘I’ll make it up to him tomorrow,’ I thought climbing the short flight of stairs to my office. _________________________
I scanned the crowds for him the next day on the train but he was nowhere to be seen. I felt disappointed. I had hoped to meet him again. In fact, I had been looking forward to it.
‘It’s ironic really,’ I reflected that day. ‘I am disappointed because I am unable to meet a man from a community that I was most uncomfortable around, even disliked to some extent.’ Shaking my head, I smiled, ruefully. The train clattered on. I missed my daily banter with my friend, well three day old friend.
Once again the train pulled into my station. I disembarked and ambled off silently towards my office.
The next day I again scanned the crowds for the familiar face. And sure enough, there he was, grinning like an oaf. He gratefully sank into the seat beside me, the one I had saved for him, as usual.
‘I missed meeting you yesterday. You did not come.’ Even to my ears my statements sounded like a reproach much like a petulant lover’s. ‘I mean, I saved a seat for you yesterday too,’ I hastened to explain lest he take offence.
‘Aah, mio amigo*,’ he winked conspiratorially, ‘I had some important work yesterday. You see, I went to the city clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license.’ The impish grin was back.
My surprise must have registered on my face for he laughed.
‘Mon’Amie what is the use of proposing if you do not intend to get married?’ he questioned, openly chuckling at my surprise now.
I chuckled along with him, surprised at how easily he brought out my lighter side. I suddenly realized that I had laughed more with him in four days than I had in the preceding four weeks. Yes, my life was that drab; from home to office and office to home with only one weekend break with friends playing poker. I realized that I liked the sound of my own laughter; I was staring to like the person I was when I was around him. He had unknowingly brought out a facet of my nature that I never knew had been missing.
‘So, when is the marriage?’ I asked.
‘Aah…sadly not for another two months. My fiancé flew overseas for work today morning. We shall be married as soon as he is back.’
I knew his fiancé’ worked as an IT specialist and travelled frequently for work.
‘So, tell me will you come to my wedding?’ he asked me.
‘Of course, I wouldn’t miss it.’
‘You can bring a plus two,’ he grinned, alluding to a date.
‘Hmmm…Let me see. Does the plus two need to be the same gender?’ I grinned, right back at him.
He laughed then, uproariously. ‘Oh my…you get me in splits my friend, in splits I tell you.’
‘No, no. The plus two can be either gender but the fairer sex may feel a bit overwhelmed at my marriage, don’t you think?’
This time I laughed. It felt really good. I felt my inhibitions, my reservations, my entire carefully built up facade fade away. With him, I was more myself, I realized.
‘Right then, see you tomorrow,’ I said as the train stopped at my station.
Our friendship progressed over the next few days, actually weeks. We learnt about each other’s families and work. Turned out he was not French. In fact, he was not European at all. He was actually as American as I although a much more well travelled one. He had a flair for languages, was good at nine and made his living as an interpreter with a publishing house. He shared details of his struggles as a gay man, told me about the reactions post his disclosure to his family. I shared with him the drudgery of my accounting job, told him about my first heartache. We developed a kinship, a bond based on our mutual need to be heard. It was a far cry from our first encounter.
Probably a month and a half after we first met, we caught up again, per usual in the train. I could sense that something had changed. He seemed to radiate happiness. With ill concealed glee he informed me that his fiancé was returning earlier than anticipated and they would be married soon.
‘Really, that is fantastic news,’ I said, hugging him. A few people turned to look disdainfully at us, at our public display of affection. I caught the eye of an old lady as she pointedly turned to look away. I suddenly realized that a few short months back I had been such a person. Much had changed since then.
‘Yes, mio amico*. It is a happy day.’
‘So, have you set a date?’
‘March 11th my friend. Save the date in your calendar. You are my guest of honour. You will come, won’t you?’
‘I would be honoured to attend,’ I replied, clasping his hand in mine. I was touched. Never had a person shown me such respect and gratitude in the same instance.
A few days later I received the official invite to the wedding. On the envelope instead of my name was written – ‘To mein freund*, another citizen of the world’.
The days leading up to the wedding were hectic. Even though we met almost daily on the train, talk was limited to wedding preparations. Soon enough the day arrived.
They were wed on a beautiful spring morning. The church was full; friends, family and acquaintances all gathered to celebrate. As I sat on the groom’s side and looked about me, all I could see was a community built on the tenets of love. The attendance was obviously predominantly homosexual, except for immediate family of both the groom’s. There were couples of all ages, unabashedly holding hands and leaning in close to witness the beautiful ceremony.
I looked at my friend. There he was, a gay man, totally content in his homosexuality. As his friend I realized that he was not looking for approval or acceptance from anyone. He accepted himself and that was enough. He had a loving partner and belonged to a community of strong men who thought similarly. Contrary to the belief of the general populace, I realized they were not the minority. In fact quite the opposite; they were the majority in terms of liberated thinking. In a condescending world, they lived their life without any bias towards anyone. In a world torn by hatred and sinking into despair, they offered a ray of hope, a love so pure that it transcended not only caste, nationality and religion but also gender. To my own newly liberated senses these people spoke the true language of love and acceptance. For, I realized that it is not us heterosexuals who have to accept them but it is them homosexuals who have to accept us in their world and that is a bigger ask.
As I sat at the banquet following the wedding, realization dawned that this man that I now proudly called my friend, had changed my perception about the homosexuality. Via his own magnanimous heart he had helped me be comfortable around the very people whom I had kept a distance from. His ebullient personality had infected cheer and laughter into my drab world. And, I was just one person whose life he had touched. I wondered how many more lives his magnanimous heart had enriched and would continue to enrich.
This story is a work of fiction. It is intended as the author’s dedication to honour the fabulous people of the LGBT community. A community that she believes comprises of some of the most beautiful souls on Earth. Any reference to any living person is purely coincidental and unintentional on her part. It was not the author’s intent to hurt the sentiments of any community via this story.
Mon’Amie – French word meaning my friend
Ciao – Italian for bye
Gracias Amigo – Spanish for Thank you friend
Mio Amigo – Spanish for my friend
Certainement – French for certainly
mio amico – Italian for my friend
mein freund – German for my friend.
published first on penmancy