The Man in the Penthouse
By Janet A. Naidu
Raj Major made his new home in the downtown apartment inhabited by newcomers mostly from around the world. He confided in his close friends who were lonely too on lengthy telephone conversations that he had decided to never get married again. I can go it alone, do for myself and live without attachments, he prided himself. Now that the warm breeze is rushing near, I wont need a hand to hold or a womans body to warm me over. I have my own beating heart. His wife had turned him down flatly for a half-pleading reconciliation. He remembered her last words, You cant use me for sex anymore! as she slammed her bedroom door in his face. His heart trembled and after some deep thinking, Raj felt he would endure a painful departure. He decided he would pursue a spiritual life. He explained to his children, I am leaving everything up to Him, and felt a deep satisfaction in his resolve. They never called him, deliberately ignored his birthday to declare they would not remember him; but he continued to do his duty as he liked to reinforce to pay for their education at the University. He sent them letters reminding them of his bank deposits into their accounts, his only real duty, just as his parents had done for him. Therefore, their not reciprocating as much as a visit to his new place would be unacceptable. Nevertheless, you must come to see my fantastic view from the Penthouse, he told one of his daughters.
Raj knew at once that his children had taken their mothers side and after several months, the bare sky over Lake Ontario seemed grayer. In the southwest corner, over the office tower, a dark patch of clouds hovered closer, threatening a rainy day. He imagined workers hurrying up the Bay Street from Union Station, carrying leather cases and heavy handbags, some with freshly brewed coffee from the carryout. It was tough enough for Raj, writing his fall lectures for a new job at the University, waiting for his test results from his cardiologist, to catch up on the daily news and ponder how his day would unfold. He hoped his children would come around.
It was nearly midmorning. A sudden burst of cloud sent light rain clinging at his wide window before rippling as if the building wept. Now he saw glimpses of his former life with his wife. He figured that she must have gotten tired over the years, too. He knew he had betrayed her. He indulged in two secret affairs and when she found out each time, he ended the brief dalliances. He just could not help it then. For one year they slept in separate bedrooms, hardly communicated except for their childrens interests. Occasionally, he enamoured her for an entire week with fresh roses and nice words before he ventured into her bedroom for an evenings closeness, until she got tired of his physical overtures. Soon, they will be divorced. His view seemed blurry even as the rain decreased, and now he pulled the ivory satin drapery close. On the shelf were books on political science and worlds religion. He knew his needs were deeper.
Finally, he took the elevator to visit a friend in the same condominium, but no one answered. Raj realized that Eileen Honeycomb worked at the bank and maybe he could stop by and say hello. She was a Customer Services person. For today, he thought, I will open an account. Then she will learn something about my status and I will let things evolve naturally that may initiate things. Somehow he felt safe with Eileen. When they met at the swimming pool, she had insisted that she too would never remarry, not after she had left her husband who she claimed was mentally abusive. Raj shared his pain with Eileen about his wifes spiritual bankruptcy how he knew it was written in the books from birth that they must part. He knew that she was too worldly and after more than two decades of putting up with her flamboyance and excessiveness, the pillars would collapse. He had warned her that if she did not change especially with the children in their teens if she could not walk with him on a quite, spiritual path he would leave her. He sensed that Eileen could be that spiritual friend he longed for. He looked straight ahead in the empty elevator that sped to the ground level, much to his relief. He could not believe he was actually anxious to see Eileen. Anxious for what? A simple date for conversation only? An impending test result. A visit from his innocent children?
As he walked on the sidewalk towards the bank, Alan Highgate, the cardiologist, in a black jacket and gray trousers, rushed passed him towards the hospital. Richard felt his heart thumping and face flushing and remembered he had an appointment with him at four. He hurried towards Eileens counter. He completed the deposit slip as he waited in line, while customers ahead shifted and shuffled from one foot to the other. Raj often said to himself that the one dishonest act he could not perform was to try to take money out of an empty account, that a credit weighed heavily on his forehead. Suddenly, Eileens white teeth and glazed brown eyes captured Rajs attention. In the Virgin Islands, she had been in a beauty pageant, singing Lulus To Sir with Love for her talent. She had hoped to become a film actor, but her fathers diplomatic post to Canada changed Irenes artistic dream. She had to start life all over, working and studying financial investments part-time. She spent many years healing from her broken marriage. Raj felt a sudden deep affection for her. God knows he could fall head over heals. He sensed she had led a spiritual life and maybe she could bring him some peace at last.
Oh, Hello Raj! I didnt know you banked here, exclaimed Eileen.
I dont. I only want to open an account here since its near my new home. Can you deposit this for me? He placed the deposit slip so near, expecting she would notice. He didnt particularly want to appear overly confident to begin dating, but he hoped she would be aware that, in spite of his impending divorce, he could afford some things in life. He could take a woman out for dinner.
Eileen observed his deep brown eyes and said, To open an account, you need to see a Personal Banker over there, pointing to one of the workers in a cubicle. Anyway, will I see you later for your regular swim at the building swimming pool tonight?
Oh yes, sorry. I almost forgot. Actually, do you have time for a coffee at your breakpoint?
Breakpoint? She sounded baffled.
I was wondering if you get a break, we could have a coffee. Raj rushed his finger through his dark hair, neatly trimmed and with a shine. His deep brown eyes held a curious warm radiance.
I already took my break. If I knew earlier, it would have been lovely. Perhaps another time? Eileen said casually.
He hurried over to the Personal Banker, thinking it doesnt matter anymore his status what matters is his honesty. He thought Eileen would appreciate such quality especially in a man. She would not care that he was a professor, that he had some property and money and could afford to take a woman to a theatre or dinner, or even something grand like a trip overseas. Maybe she would be one of those women who didnt mind a man with children he supported. She too could devote her life to serving God. He smiled, imagining Eileen as more his type than any other. He had only met two younger single women at the swimming pool who seemed keen for marriage and children. He had done that already. Eileen was 45, no children, attractive with a permanent deep tan. Her brown eyes held a sincere care for the downtrodden as if shed rescue a poor soul in need. Appearing much younger than her years, perhaps because she hadnt been burdened with a husband and children to drain her, she had no wrinkles. Even from a distance, her eyes radiated with a gentle harmony like a spring vine that could easily wrap around the thickest oak tree. He imagined her in a few years, how she would wear an elegant gown, how hed welcome her into his new home, be more than a friend and she would have her own room for privacy and independence. By then too, he would be deep into the spiritual journey and there would be no ropes around his neck, like marriage held, no loud music and endless parties that he ran from. He could share truth, love, peace and liberation, all the joy as in his dreams when he was a boy growing up in Guyana. He would not have to move to another city to find his treasure untarnished by the dust of environmental waste. Somehow, he could be with her.
He opened his account and felt a sudden rush of hope. I could be with her. I could see her again tomorrow, he thought.
Moments later, while he relaxed against the window in his Penthouse, the sky seemed brighter and new clouds appeared to move slowly eastward. When the phone rang, the rain had already stopped and a tiny light squeezed through the clouds.
Dad? How are you? How was your doctors appointment? the young man asked.
Okay, I guess, he said lazily, surprised that his son took the initiative to contact him at last. I was right, he thought, that only my son would come around. When will I see you Anand? he asked.
Oh, I dont know dad. The days are getting shorter before I return to Western. He sounded hesitant. Anyway, how was the rest result? he asked.
Oh, that. I wont know until later tonight; but thanks for asking Anand. How did you know?
I ran into someone from the hospital and
Those damn people ought to know doctor-patient information is privileged! I must do something about it. Anyway, Anand, how are your studies coming along? How are the girls? When are you going to come around to see my new place? He nearly choked on his deep breath, shaking.
Well, Ill see. Maybe Ill come around next week. But for Lisa and Lara, I cant speak for them dad. You know how they hate heights.
They are big girls now; but youre also so polite. I can tell they are still mad at me, taking sides. Oh well, what can I do? Raj said with some exhaustion.
I dont know about that, but I hope to see you soon, dad.
That convinced Raj that his daughters could take a long time to come around, maybe never. He made a wry face and rubbed his handkerchief across his forehead. It was soaking wet. Should he go to see Alan Highgate at the hospital or should be postpone the news? He wondered as his heart sank some more. Is he helping himself to escape from something that may be thickening inside him, maybe in rough veins, maybe in huge lumps, like donuts? He would think about it later.
Raj had dreamed some time ago that he was climbing a mountain and when he looked down, he saw a woman in a white robe, like a mother intensely gripping her heart for a childs safety. He had shared his dream with Eileen near the poolside. He spent much of his time pondering his impending divorce and his heart condition. Would he have to have another bypass? He already endured a quadruple and now the medication is less effective. His ever-increasing solitude made him restless. He wanted to be on the ground floor where he could walk out for fresh air, comb the grounds, hop across the street and walk and think. I must be finish writing my lectures, he pushed himself.
Around seven that night, he went down to the swimming pool and after ten laps, he wondered about Eileen. She must have changed her mind. Much later, he wanted to make himself an important promise one that he could keep that he would forget women even as friends for spiritual quests. They are not worth banking ones wealth on, ones righteousness. I can go it alone. Ive had a married life, children, why do I need a Woman now? It really wasnt about sex, but he knew even when he slept in a separate bedroom, it was about something more, something that filled the space with lavender clouds and the rain made continuous journeys across the sky before coming down near him. He reminded himself that he had done his best. He hoped that his daughters would come around one day when they too had made journeys of their own.
Raj sat in his lazyboy chair and saw that the moon was half full, illuminating the lake. He sipped on a cup of hot cocoa. West of here, the city houses and buildings stretched in glitters as candles in a church. He had been told that one is never alone when a higher being resides in ones heart. His Penthouse seemed like a shrine, ideal for meditation.
His doorbell rang suddenly.
Hello Raj, are you busy? May I come in?
Do come in Eileen. I was just relaxing.
I am sorry I did not make it to the pool this evening. My mother hadnt been well and I felt I should go see her.
Whats wrong with her?
Oh, just the flu, but we are very close and I hadnt seen her for over two weeks. She is seventy-five and getting on you know.
Would you like something to drink, tea or cocoa perhaps?
Herbal tea, if you have. I have to be up early for work.
A Victoria tea set was on the living room table beside a vase of fresh red roses and tea biscuits in a fine bone-china plate.
How was your banking today?
"I am glad for the closeness.
I went to mass before visiting my mother to light a candle for my father who passed away two years ago. He was a good man.
Richard listened to Eileens remembrance of her father, a devotion and joy in their lives, the way her parents met, their forty-five years of marriage and the single red rose they kept on their bedroom dresser as a reminder of their love.
Thats it! Its all about friendship too isnt Eileen? Your parents had become friends hadnt they?
Yes, they understood each other and they talked and forgave each other when things went wrong. They harbored no grudges. My mother supported him when he got his education, became successful, when he lost his job; she cared for him when he became ill. My father never fooled around, you know. Eileen sipped her tea. Her smile is so gentle, Raj thought.
Do have some tea biscuits. Are you hungry? I can make good omelets.
No thanks, I ate at my mothers. You have a nice place here Richard, with a great view.
I am glad to make your friendship Eileen. Perhaps we can go out for dinner sometime?
That would be lovely.
When he closed his door, the half-moon brought a brilliant radiance into his room. On the wall, the painting of Jesus mother, Mary, appeared suddenly brighter. Ah yes, soon a full moon.
Janet Naidu writes short stories, biographies and poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada.