I wanted to comfort him and tell him not to worry, that somehow, everything was going to be alright. But almost as if he had read my mind, just like in high school, he raised his hand to tell me to remain seated. With the power of every sinew in his body backing him up, he gathered himself together and looked up at me.
“It’s, well, it’s good to see you again, man,” started Jon, trying to brush off the events of the past year. “Who told you?”
A little shocked at this brushing aside of information, I jumped up and yelled, “Why the hell didn’t you call me and let me know? What were you thinking? Jon, goddammit! What the hell is all this about?” but no sooner had I gotten into the groove of my tirade, Jon raised his hand again.
“We’re not in fucking class Jon! Stop raising your fucking hand and…” I began, full of fire and brimstone, when it seemed Jon had had enough of my display of anger.
“Sit down Rajiv!” he bellowed. “Did you come here to see me or to shout at me?”
It was my turn to retract a little. I wanted to talk to him. No. I wanted to run up to him and smack him on the arm. I wanted to give him a big bear hug and tell him that I was finally here. That it would all be ok. I wanted to know why he hadn’t called me or tried to get in touch with me all this time. I wanted to know why he did what he did, and what possessed him to do it. I mean, when was Jon, my poor Jon, ever capable of doing someone else harm? How could I accept that he had ever had it in him to kill someone?
Silence. We were both fired up. Maybe it was just me being fired up for the both of us. But I couldn’t control myself any longer. “What the hell happened Jon?” I asked in my most honestly curious tone of voice.
“You’d better sit down,” he said, with a caring firmness that reminded me of who my poor Jon was really.
He began with a little bit of background, a couple of months before our last phone call, when he had just met Lisa and they had fallen madly in love with each other. It seems they were both at a media event for a product launch that Jon’s company was hosting. Lisa was there as one of the reporters covering the event for an independent magazine. The night was young, and proceedings were more fabulously planned than any of the invitees expected. There was a lot of food. There was a lot of alcohol. They even hired a world-renowned DJ to do the after party. Well, eventually, one thing led to another, and Lisa went back with Jon to his place.
The whirlwind romance saw Lisa give up her job and move to where Jon was working. He had just flown into town for this major launch. With her qualifications, stunning looks and effortless charm, she easily found another job, with an even more well-known magazine. They moved in together. They just couldn’t believe how wonderful their lives were turning out to be, always wondering about how different and seemingly empty their lives had been until now. They couldn’t help but tell the world that this was the perfect match, and that not even God could have done a better job of matchmaking than this. And, soon enough, Jon let his parents know and they couldn’t wait to meet their future daughter-in-law. They planned it so that they could have a bit of a private holiday before catching up with family, not being able to entirely get away from the pressures of work, and all that. So, Jon picked out Kili Town for the mini vacation.
At this point, I glanced over Jon’s shoulder to look at the door behind him, the one that he had been escorted through. I could see the warden telling the constable something, perhaps something to do with the fact that the 10-minute time limit was almost up. From his wild gesticulation, I understood that he was to let me have enough time with the prisoner, Jon, if he knew what was good for him. Wild gesticulation by the warden was shortly followed by meek obeisance from the constable, indicated by bowing so low he ended up ducking below the glass pane and out of view.
“Well, everything was going well until we got to Kili Town,” said Jon, continuing on with his story.
“What happened in Kili Town?” I asked, a little surprised at this anti-climactic juncture in the story.
“Well, it was weird,” he continued, “But it was almost like getting there made her change into someone else. I, well, I can’t explain it.”
“Why don’t you tell me how she changed, or how you thought she changed?” I asked, trying to keep the story from faltering.
“It was like she started getting cold feet about the whole thing, you know? About us. About wanting to get married and stuff,” Jon went on. “I mean, one day we’re really looking forward to this trip, to go see my folks, always waiting for the day we would become man and wife and all that, and the very next day, she starts asking me why we can’t just be like other people and start a family without getting married. I mean, I can understand it if she was a little anxious about meeting my parents or whatever, but telling me that maybe this entire thing was a mistake, and that maybe we should take things a lot slower were just the last things I wanted to hear, I guess,” said Jon, his voice getting a bit more shrill, and the pace of his telling of this tale quickening.
“That first night, she said she had a headache and wanted to get back to the room early. She didn’t want any dinner, she just wanted to get back to the room. She insisted like she had never insisted before,” Jon continued, his eyes looking at the floor in front of him, as if the scene were being played over, projected at his feet. “When I got back to the room, she was on the phone, laughing and chatting to someone. She wouldn’t say who it was, and she made sure that she didn’t respond to anything I asked her or said to her.”
“What?” I asked, with my own special brand of genuine wonder. “What brought that on?”
In a perplexed shoulder shrug, which forced him to make eye contact with me finally, he exclaimed, “I don’t know! It’s like she was possessed or something. And,” he proceeded, “it got a lot worse the second night.”
According to Jon, when he woke up the next morning, Lisa had already left the room. When he asked the front desk, they said she hadn’t told them anything, but they suspected she would be somewhere on the beach. When he went looking for her, he couldn’t find her. Returning to his room, lost, forlorn, and so very confused, Jon waited for Lisa to return. He figured that where ever she had gone to, she had to come back because all her stuff was still in the room. He didn’t even turn on the TV. He just sat there and waited. He didn’t shower. He didn’t even brush his teeth or his disheveled hair. He didn’t eat breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. He just sat there, on the sofa in the hotel room, frozen to the whole world around him. And he waited.
“Around about midnight, I heard the key in the door. She walked in like nothing had happened, while I sat there and followed her around the room. I wasn’t angry with her. I just wanted to know why and what I could do to try and make it better. I really thought it was something I did, you know?” he ended questioningly.
I didn’t dare offer a response.
“Then, cool as a cucumber, she turns to me as she’s putting her things into her bag and tells me that she’s going back home for a while, because she needs more time to think things through. And, that she’s not sure when she’ll be back and that I shouldn’t wait around for her. You know, just in case she decides not to come back at all.”
At this point my expressive face was a twisted mass of muscles and nerves, all trying to individually puzzle through the possibilities of what could make for such a dramatic turn of events, or even to try and figure out what was going on at this point in the story. My painful confusion was more than evident to Jon because he half chuckled and then said, “Tell me about it. You think I was prepared for any of that?”
“But, what about the rest of her life? Her job? And, the apartment you guys shared and all that?” I asked, because I just had to say something. The anxious pressure building up inside of me just had to be let out.
“Funny thing, really. She’s not from here, I mean, as far as her citizenship goes. So if she just decided to pick up and leave, there’s nothing anyone can really do about it.”
“But…,” I was at a loss for words, “But…what…I mean, what do you think brought this on?”
“I don’t know...even now,” he said, looking down at the ground in front of his feet. “All I know,” he continued, “Is that I got up and asked her what she was talking about.” He paused. I could see him reliving the events of that night, sitting there in that chair in front of me. I thought I detected a shudder before it was quickly and neatly suppressed.
“She started telling me that she never was sure if she was doing the right thing by getting married so early in her life, especially since she had such a promising career going for her.” Again Jon paused. “And I don’t know what she said next because I looked down and began to cry. It was like all of my dreams being inexplicably shattered in the blink of an eye.” He was still looking down, but this time the shudder was a little less concealed.
He paused some more, almost like he was fighting back the tears, remembering moment by bitter moment the events that transpired that night.
“It was then that she said something that pushed me over the edge. I know I normally wouldn’t have lost my mind like that, but it was almost too much to bear at this time,” he said, setting up the final scene. “That was it, for me. I jumped up and at her, and before she knew it I had tackled her onto the bed, pinning her legs down with my knees, and holding her arms above her head with one hand, with my other hand poised to strike.” He paused, yet again.
When he spoke again, I looked at him and wondered whether or not this was the Jon I really knew. He had ceased fighting back any tears. His voice was cold, icy-cold. And, for the first time during this telling of his story, he looked me right in the eyes when he spoke. This wasn’t the vacuous stare of when I first saw Jon. This was a far more deliberate and menacing in a somewhat detached way kind of a look.
“First, she shouted something at me. I shouted back. And then, she shouted back at me again. And she wasn’t afraid of being held down or of me going to hit her or anything. She turned into a kind of vicious, caged animal, showing an unreal amount of determination when cornered. And that was it for me,” he paused for a breath. “I let go her hands and wrapped both of mine around her neck. And I squeezed with all my might.” I could have sworn that I saw him chuckle, but I was too taken aback by Jon’s transformation. “She tried to fight me off, clawing at my face and chest. But that only made me squeeze harder. And I kept at it. Squeezing harder. And in a little while, I felt her go limp. But I didn’t let go. No. I squeezed harder still.” His eyes were glazing over, slowly but surely. And his voice was taking on a faint rasp at the end of his sentences. “All I knew was, at that point in time, I wanted her to suffer as she was making me suffer. And I squeezed the life out of her, man.”
“Jonathan!” I said loudly, startled. Was this the same guy I had known for most of my life? What was going on?
“I killed her with my bare hands,” he reiterated. “And, no, I don’t wish I could bring her back or anything. I know I made a mistake. And I messed it up, totally. And I paid the price.” With that, he seemed to sit back in his chair, like he had taken a load off of his shoulders and could now relax.
I was beyond words. I didn’t know what to say. And even if I did know what to say, I couldn’t figure out how to say it. It was just a bizarre series of events that seemed to be a freak of nature. And, it was going to take away a very good friend of mine, for no real fault of his own. “Why didn’t you call me?” was all that I could muster.
“I was too ashamed.” And with that, the door behind Jon opened, and the constable made his way towards Jon.
With a newfound sense of urgency, I implored, “But you could have let me know. There must’ve been something I could have done in these last few months. Come on man! Why didn’t you give me a chance to try and help you out?”
He smiled, as the constable pulled up alongside his chair. Then, as the epitome of cool-headedness, he said, “Because I don’t deserve to be saved, Raj. I did a very bad thing to someone who I really, really loved, from the bottom of my heart. And, I didn’t deserve anything that would begin to resemble help.” He stood up as the constable grabbed him by the elbow. I motioned to him to desist until I had finished saying what I was going to say.
“Does that mean you would have never called me? That I would’ve never found out about this? Or were you hoping that I’d read about this in the newspaper someday and be alright with it? What the hell were you thinking Jon?” I asked, almost shouting it out at him.
“Don’t you get that I didn’t want anyone to see me like this?” he answered my pained crescendo. “I didn’t want people to think of me as a common criminal, man. Come on. Do you know, my parents haven’t come to visit me once. They disowned me the moment they heard about this. I’ve only had two visitors since I’ve been here, and you’re the second one.”
“Who visited you first?” I enquired, mostly out of a sense of formality, but a great deal because these were my last few moments to be able to speak to my dearest friend.
“Paulson.” He said, looking down as he said the name.
“Paulson?” I was surprised. No, way beyond surprised. “What did he visit you for?” I managed to follow up with. “And, more importantly, how did he know?”
“He…well…he’s Lisa’s cousin.” Silence. And the constable who was standing impatiently by on the sidelines thought this to be the opportune moment to move in and remove the prisoner. But, I waved him off again, because, if nothing else, the name of Jon’s last visitor was the one person I least expected to visit Jon.
“What?” I asked, sounding almost indignant for not having been given this key bit of information up front. Maybe I should have kept my big mouth shut, because the moment the constable heard that little bit of surprise, he decided to carry out his duty and escort Jon back to his cell.
Suddenly, standing there looking at Jon about to be dragged away forever, I suddenly realized what had happened in the morning. Paulson called me up so that I could get a chance to say goodbye. Not enough of a chance to be able to do something about Jon going to the gallows. Just enough to be able to say goodbye to my closest friend. My brother. Well, almost.
Jon was facing me, still being mostly dragged out, somewhat escorted out by the constable. We just looked at each other. Not one of us said a word. But, it was important for us to see each other. No emotion. No tears. Not even a farewell.
“I’m sorry Raj!” yelled Jon, “But, I really did love her,” were the last words that I heard as the large metal door grated to a close, severing the connection forever. I kept on looking through the pane of glass, for as long as I could see him. I don’t even know if he was still there or not, or if I kept painting him standing there behind the door.
“Excuse me. Sir,” said the constable who had escorted Jon back to his cell, now standing on my side of this great divide. “Please, visiting time is over sir. Please understand, sir,” he continued.
I was still rooted to the spot. Momentarily. I looked at him, watched his lips move some more, and proceeded to leave. I don’t know what I felt, really. Was I more upset than angry? Was I just absolutely frustrated at my apparent helplessness? Whatever it was, it made me retch into a shoddily managed flower bed that hopelessly adorned the parking lot. Soman saw me, and he came running over to help. That was the last thing I remember.
Continue on to the end - "In The End: Acceptance"