Mr Brown’s loneliness

by Saleha Chowdhury

eid010MR WILLIAM Brown is a quiet type of man. He speaks rarely and reads all the time. He is an omnivorous reader. Even he reads every label in the packets and every literature that comes with medicines. He has a fond habit –fishing. He always chooses a quiet spot and spends hours there. He has a collapsible chair, different types of fishing rods, hats and flasks to take tea. And he takes with him all these things when he goes out for fishing. He also takes other bits and pieces like books and magazines to spend longer period of time. He knows lots of such spots. He buys ticket to be there and spends time uninterrupted. He works now and again and most of the time unemployed. When fish swallow baits and get in his rod he just whispers to them – my dear go back to water, if I need to eat fish I have fishmongers for that.
Just sitting there in a place like that is his joy, and catching them to free them again is also another joy. Fish go back to the water, look at him, and, may be, then disappear. And he feels good.
He is forty-nine now. When he was young one or two girls had tried to enter into his private life and found him boring, dull and reserved. He never liked to dance all night and make love for a longer period of time. Using sugar-coated words for them is not his style. So, girls had come but within a few days vanished. Living alone is his choice and he feels good for it. He loves books, fishing and occasional holiday to a place which has got fishing opportunities and quietness.
But something had happened which changed his life a lot. That something was as follows. In the unemployment benefit office for no apparent reason whatsoever a girl was staring at him. Sitting in a corner he was reading a book. For him a classic is good enough to kill boredom or any time. The girl was Rosemary – a mixed race girl. Her mum was English and father Jamaican. She had lots of curly wild hair and a pair of huge hazel eyes, kind of olive complexion and a healthy body. What might be the reason! Rosemary felt something for him and she followed him home. Her heart felt kind of tingling pain for this quiet man. Who can explain why in this world now and again unexpected or odd things happen. After that, series of incidents took place, and with a few guests they got married at a church. It was the first marriage for both of them. He never got married before and though Rosemary had boyfriends, he never had any girl friends before getting married. What she saw in him when he was reading a book and drinking tea from his flasks was not clear. Could that be Mr Brown’s new shirt or his new haircut?
After marriage Rosemary tried to control everything – his life, his purse, his books, his hobbies. Then Mr Brown felt that this marriage was not for him and he tried his best to get himself off the hook just like a fish to disentangle himself from this situation. But Rosemary was reluctant to let him go that easily.
With a stern guardianship she tried to control everything and his every move like a dictator. She told him, ’You must not read those books Wills, read some romantic books of Jackie Collins or Barbara Cartland or someone else. Stop reading classics.’
Do not spend so much money on fishing, rods, baits, tickets etc.
Do not listen to all those Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Handel. Listen to some easy piece of music.
Do not use those shirts and trousers but use something smarter. Why do you try to look so old all the time?
And why do you take so little time to make love? Have those pills and potions and be virile. She got all sorts of recipe for that but he was reluctant to use those.
So when their first marriage anniversary had come, they went to a nice hotel and that was Rosemary’s idea. But frustrated Rosemary threw all those presents out of the window and poured black ink in bed-sheets and his clothes. Next morning Mr Brown escaped from his wife and went to Spain to live the rest of his life there. Once he had seen that fishing village and loved it. He preferred his independence to his little house and that farcical incident everybody calls a marriage. He packed up his things and took all his hidden savings from the bank. That secret money! Rosemary did not know anything about. He sneaked out of the hotel in the middle of the night when Rosemary was fast asleep.
Rosemary came home alone. May be she was tired to keep someone in leash for a year. She just yawned.

Twenty years have gone by. Mr Brown returns from Spain just to find that his house is no longer his, someone else is living there. Where is Rosemary? No one knows where she is. Is she dead or alive? No one can tell him about her whereabouts. Has she gone to a different country? New Zealand, Australia, South America? No one can answer that question too. Then Mr Brown stops thinking about her, feeling blissfully happy because she is not there anymore.
When he enquired about his house someone told him, ‘My father bought this house twenty years ago.’ The new resident closed the door angrily.
So Rosemary sold it as soon as she was single again. ‘Greedy cow’, he uttered angrily. But only Rosemary can tell if it was only the house or some feeling for the man who was sitting in a corner and drinking green tea from the flask while reading a classic – far from the madding crowd – that made her fall in love with him.
Mr Brown has another tiny council flat, small but adequate for him. With social security’s benefits he is doing fine. He has a bit of savings too. Now he is seventy. He feels happy as a lark with fishing, reading books and getting back to his own homeland and with no such an irritating person like Rosemary beside him to control his every move. So why won’t he be happy?. He talks to fish, trees, air, grass and stars and feels good. The bottom line is he talks to himself all the time – my dear fish go back to water. Or when he sees a tree with some branches chopped off he would say – my god who has chopped your hands and legs like that? He caresses it like his beloved friend and says – you should be OK soon. His touch seems as if he is touching someone with amputated legs. And only he can hear that the tree is whispering back to him – I will be OK. Please do not worry about me. A Silver Barch or Poplar makes him sad sometimes and then he returns home and takes a book to read. The evening has a mystery. Under a floorlamp he is thinking about something different. He could see stars and the moon from his tiny balcony and through the window. The characters in the book are with him now. – You do not like me the way writer ends the story, isn’t it? Do not worry, I will be in some other book and live there. Listen, now. I am Ruby. A rich man’s only daughter. I am not Doris anymore. They talk to him in this mysterious moment.
Then he opens his eyes. No one is there. No Ruby or Doris. He closes his eyes again thinking about all the people in books, and at one point goes to sleep.
One day he is walking to reach home quickly and then he notices a billboard in front of a funeral service. `If you buy now you can save up to 40 percent.’ Its written on a board in front of that shop who supplies everything when someone is dead – burial ground, coffin, head stone, wreath, flowers, Rolls Royce to take coffin to burial ground etc. He thinks a little. Sometimes he gets chest pain. If I order or buy it now I will save some money–– he talks to himself and then enters the shop.
Two smart sales persons welcome him. One is a man, another woman. The young man stands up and says politely – may I help you sir?
Yes, you may. My question now is–– if I buy all those things which I will need after my death and die later would those purchase be any good?
Yes, yes, of course. You will just write that in your will and keep the receipt. We will honour it if you die after ten years. No problem with that, Sir.
Then he sits on a chair and tells them about the items.
What sort of wood you will like for your coffin, sir?
I like mahogany.
So, you will have mahogany coffin then. But why don’t you like oak or other items, sir?
Mahogany has evergreen leaves and they look lovely.
The salesman is very quiet after that. A romantic man! He thought.
Then he tells him about headstone –People write something like `Here sleeps Mr Brown/ A simple man no crown’ etc. The salesman makes notes. Then he talks about wreaths and other things. He says smilingly – do you know what I like? I like a few people who would turn up for my funeral service and drink on me to their hearts fill.
You must write your wish in your will, Sir.
Of course, I will write everything.
After adding and subtracting, the salesman Sam says – normal price is five thousand but for you it would be three thousand and five hundred.
I will come back and give you the rest of the money. Now, you can have fifty pound as deposit.
That would be fine.
Then he asks – I hope the pattern on the coffin must be very good and intricate. Would you make sure about that?
Please, do not worry about those little things, Sir. We make sure that the coffin looks immaculate and your last journey is something to remember. We have to think about your sendoff thoughtfully. And also a place you can sleep in happily forever. We know such places. Over head lovely evergreen floral trees, green grass and rosebushes everywhere, yes, we know such places. Recently, we have a new cemetery. It was a park and now the authority has made it a cemetery. A lovely place for the final rest. And it’s called Lily of the Valley meadow. A heavenly place, sir.
Very good to know that. He tries to smile then he feels rather thirsty and asks for a glass of water. He realizes that talking about death and all that can make people thirsty. The sales lady brings him a glass of water with two ice cubes. Then he remembers something and says- I remember a poem which I love to have for my headstone – ‘do not go gentle into that Goodnight’. It was written by Dylan Thomas and I love this poem.
It is really a beautiful poem for headstone. I know this poem. It is lovely. The salesman Sam smilingly reassures.
He is thinking about the purchase of funeral service at night. His cat Nefertiti cuddles next to him. He strokes her and says – Nefertiti when I will go someone will look after you. In my will I will leave some money for you my darling. Please, do not worry about a thing. Nefertiti looks at him, purrs and then goes back to sleep again. The he thinks about `being alone’ or loneliness for the first time in his life but does not know why.
Next day he looks out of the window and realizes that it is a nice spring morning. A summery sun welcomes him. He gets up then goes out for walking. Recently, a newly wed couple has come here to live next door. They walk like lovebirds, holding hands and kissing and cuddling all the time. Mr Brown looks at them. Then he looks at something else. Another young man taking her girlfriend inside his coat is walking and giggling. He notices these scenes and feels a kind of emptiness. God knows why he is feeling emptiness or a bit of sadness but it is absolutely true that this feeling is something new for him. He returns home soon.
For his lunch he finds a fish. A chip shop would rather be a good place to go to. An elderly lady about his age is sitting alone at a table. No one is sitting on the other chair in front of her.
Hallo! the lady says.
Hallo! he replies.
Then they start to talk. The quiet Mr Brown seems chatty.
They talk and giggle like two teenagers. Mr Brown then understands, soon the lady will go out on a cruise holiday with his friend Birty. They see each other often and spend time together though they live in different flats. The lady with her lovely dyed hair and red cardigan looks good. A peacock brooch makes her cardigan bright and she also has a bubbly personality. After fish and chips both of them have nickerbrocker glory. Icecream-joy in a tall glass.
Mr Brown on the road again. The sky is bright and blue as if someone is cleaning it with a liquid and a piece of cloth. He looks at the sky, then trees and then at the people. There they go again! Men and women, boys and girls hand in hand, cheeks in cheeks, lips in lips. He is walking alone. Life is everywhere. He stares at a young couple who are trying to catch the bus – hand in hand.

Hallo! Please, be seated sir! The salesman Sam gets up from his chair and welcomes Mr Brown. He takes a chair and asks for a glass of water. The young sales girl brings him a glass of water with two ice cubes. A minute ago Sam and the young sales girl were doing something erotic standing by the wooden filing cabinet. In the shop of the dead something earthly. Now back to normal; they are alert and ready to please the customer.
Mr Brown coughs, clears his throat and says – there is something you have to change for me. Would you write that please in my note of request?
Yes sir, of course. Sam takes his file out of the cabinet, then looks at Mr Brown and waits.
I like a big coffin. They try to understand what he means by that.
A big coffin like a double bed. Under a floral tree in the garden of the lily of the valley surrounded by green grass and rose bushes, it would be very lonely up there on my own.
Sir! Sam tries to understand what he is up to.
A double coffin like double bed! He utters again.
Sam tries hard to think what he actually wants. A double coffin like double bed? Who is going to die with this lonely old man? Then both of them will live or sleep in one coffin forever! Insane! He puts his pencil down and looks at Mr Brown bewildered.
One day Rosemary standing in a honeysuckle meadow was laughing at her boring husband, her wild curly hair was flowing in the wind. It looked as if a water nymph came to the meadow to share a bit of time with him. Last night this beautiful scene kept him awake nearly all night and that was the first time he missed Rosemary, a woman with a huge appetite for life.
Sam is silent. Does not know what he is to say. Mr Brown asks for another glass of water with ice cubes. •

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