‘Life’ by Pearl Gahwera

There’s a popular, not solely nursery, rhyme about being dared to jump and what one would get in exchange for taking on the dare. One might say that that’s a tool to sow the seeds of bribery at a tender age, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In any other scenario, not many would willingly jump in the event that it turned out to be a fall. I guess that’s why Carol was not so big on falling in love. It seemed too reckless for her nature – she preferred to have control over any and everything. While the rest of her peers were busy trying to find love in hopeless places, she was comfortable drinking away her life at a waterhole she frequented. This did not in any way mean that it was her favorite. It was what she could afford, and the economy being what it was, it was not worth the risk to do it any other way.

It wasn’t too bad, if she had to be honest. For its prices, it was a pretty decent place. There was good lighting, it wasn’t too bright, and the music was at just the right level, not too loud that it gave her a headache and not too low to allow her to listen to the voices in her head.

She couldn’t quite point out the first time the voices in her head made their presence known, but they had been there for so long now she honestly couldn’t remember a life without them.
The waiters weren’t too concerned with what was happening in her life.

For her, that was a good bargain.

She loved sitting at the bar counter – because she understood that it wasn’t a five-star (two-star?) establishment so service was not one of their priorities. I think her Strategic Planning lecturer had called that positioning. Her supply never ran dry, and as long as she had a drink in her hand, she could shush away the unwanted company by focusing on the issue at hand – drinking.

What was it about sitting alone that made strangers think it was an invitation to conversate? She did it because it didn’t make her feel so alone, but she didn’t have any intention to indulge even the smallest of conversations. Long marriages had probably been forged on less.

That’s why she should have listened to her gut feeling to ignore Phillip, regardless of how persistent he was. And gosh was he persistent. That’s how she ended up actually learning his name. In the beginning, she had referred to him as ‘What’s his face?’, in her mind of course. He would offer to buy her drink every time, and every time she would decline mumbling a ‘No, thank you. I am okay’.

He wasn’t a shabby looking guy, on the contrary. He was always smartly dressed, and his English made sense which was a big plus in her generation. She had shushed away the thought when it came to her mind because she wasn’t looking for a potential anything, so the plus was useless.

It was her job – the one that made her need a drink every so often. Experts would call her an alcoholic, but she called it survival. Everyone had to do what they had to do, to survive the best way they could. There was a time she believed in the ‘Living your best life’ mantra, but after a while she had settled for ‘Not living your worst life’. She knew things could be worse. And that’s where the watering hole came in, to make sure she never got to that point.
It was a rainy evening, the first time she allowed Phillip to buy her a drink. He had walked in, mostly drenched, and yet he didn’t look like he had been running through/away from the rain. It looked almost like he was willing the rain to take away his pain and suffering, and had given it ample time to do so. Not all the pain and the suffering, that would have been an unrealistic request, merely any of it.

She knew that look all too well, she had seen it so many times when she looked in the mirror. Only someone who knew it could recognize it.

Later she had found out that the rain drenching hadn’t worked. That his mother had died about a year ago, but it felt like yesterday. Sometimes how much he hadn’t moved on made him ashamed. And so, he came to the watering hole. One night after a very memorable sweaty session, he had said that it wasn’t even his preferred watering hole. He had only continued to come because seeing her made him happy, in a way that he couldn’t put into words.

As always, a drink is never just a drink. That’d how she had ended up in his apartment. You know how people always refer to their homes as apartments yet in reality they are the next best thing after a grass thatched hut? For Phillip that wasn’t the case. His was an actual fancy apartment. She had been in arrangements like this before though, so she didn’t think much of it. They were both in a place where they needed someone – physically.
Whoever said success is 80% planning and 20% action needs to be hanged, because her plan fell through the cracks like soup through a fork. The physical satisfaction was not enough, and I guess that’s where her heart got the genius idea to want more. She fell in love. It wasn’t planned, at all.

It’s most amusing how people make it clear that the plan was never to fall in love as though that gives you bonus points, or puts you off the hook. Regardless, she did fall in love. At that point, it was difficult to tell who Carol was without Phillip. It’s what the kids these days would call a web.

His heart was on the same path as hers. And that’s when she knew what she had to do. She had grown up in a broken family because her parents thought they were in love and a few years later had realized, ‘No, not really’. Her parents had remained civil to each other even to date, but she had been damaged in so many ways, some she probably didn’t know about.

It’s admirable how everyone wants to be the exception to the rule. There are clear statistics but people choose to ignore them because ‘Everyone is different’, ‘Someone’s story is not your story’ and other inspirational things along those lines. She wouldn’t do it – refuse to listen to reason, with all the evidence from thousands of case studies that prove that ‘Happily Ever After’s’ only exist in Disney movies. Believe that hope, sheer will and determination would let her stay with the man she had grown to love more than herself, forever.

Jumping off a building was a better odd, the chances of death were high. Not dying was a risk she was willing to take. She chose her office building – it was after all where all of this began.
It was only right.

She said one last prayer, her first in a long time, that it would be instant.

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