A Tale of Two Cities
Windsor, January, 2003
I stepped out of the solicitor’s office and into the cold January rain. I needed a coffee. I couldn’t afford one, but I needed one. I pulled up the collar of my raincoat and headed down the street. My head throbbed now as I trudged slowly up the hill towards the castle, breathing hard, and leaning forward to keep out the worst of the cold wind. I was out of shape. I needed to do something about that. Some day. I ducked into the corner cafe by the Victoria statue. It was small but they had decent coffee and it was on the way to the station. Hanging up my raincoat I noticed a middle-aged lady sitting in the corner, reading a book. I ordered an Americano and took a seat by the window. I wiped away the condensation and looked out onto the street. It was just past 3 PM and already dark. The occasional car passed tentatively, headlights illuminating the pouring rain, wipers full blast. Dark figures hurried along, bent forward, umbrellas raised to ward off the worst of the weather.
My coffee arrived and I took a sip. I tried to make sense of the last few months and failed. My head wasn’t up to it. Maybe more caffeine would help. The outcome was plain enough though. I’d lost my wife, kids, house, money. Ah yes, the money. The money could be replaced. The 20 years I’d spent earning it couldn’t. And then the company I worked for switched off the last server and closed its offices forever. Not good. I checked my watch. I had plenty of time to kill. The next train home was 4:25. I sipped some more of the coffee – I’d have to make it last. Home. I couldn’t help a wry grin. Home was an attic room in the house I’d grown up in from the age of 13. My old room. Just a few of my personal things there now: a photo of my kids, a painting I’d done as a child. My old duvet. A small chest of drawers. A few clothes hanging in the wardrobe. That was pretty much the sum of it. I felt for my parents. I’m sure they hadn’t been expecting me, age 40, to be living there again. They’d handled it with a love and grace and kindness that I could only aspire to having one day. It was painful to acknowledge that on the parenting front I’d fallen way short. No, I’d failed. Just a few months ago I’d thought I’d had it all – the dream house, wife and kids, a great job, money. Now the future was uncertain. I realized that for the first time in my life I was afraid.
I got up to leave. Fetching my raincoat I saw that the middle-aged lady had been reading A Tale of Two Cities. With a smile the opening words came to me. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”. It was certainly the worst of times.
I was still smiling at the irony of it as I stepped out into the rain.
Bangkok, December, 2003
I gasped as I hit the cooling water of the pool. It was nearly eleven and I’d been sitting on the lounger reading and writing for two hours. I’d started to get hot in the mid-morning sunshine of the Bangkok winter. Actually, I’d been mostly reading. A forgettable techno-thriller I’d picked up on the flight out. Just what I needed. Downtime.
I had the pool to myself. As I floated aimlessly looking up at the clear blue sky I thought back over the last year. This was my second trip out to Thailand this year. I felt at peace here. Free even. The place was a revelation. The relaxed lifestyle based around the Thai concept of sanuk, or fun, had been a breath of fresh air compared to the workaholic mindset of the Western rat-race, the American dream they called it. More like a nightmare. I’d been working out in the apartment block’s gym, and that bloated, flabby feeling I’d been dragging around with me was gone. Back in the UK I’d started running again. Going from my parent’s house through the park to the castle and back. Ten miles. Six days a week. I felt fit. Alive.
I’d managed to land a great gig too. It was flexible and well paid work – I’d even started to get my finances sorted. I was on the case and learning the ins and outs of savings schemes and pensions. I knew I still had a long way to go though.
I thought about the adventures I’d had since my first trip to Thailand in March. Things I’d never dream of. Travel. Adventure. Romance. I’d learned more about myself over the last 12 months than the rest of my life put together. I’d picked up some valuable new skills too. Rather than feel like I was slowly dying I felt like I was actually living. I was growing. I was becoming a new person, a better person. Someone I was happier with. Someone I was proud to be. Life was good.
I pulled myself out of the water and sat on the side of the pool. My legs dangled into the cool blue. The sun warmed my back. Then, for a fleeting moment, I was transported back almost a year to a rainy day in January. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”. Maybe there was something in that after all.
With a smile I dived back into the water.
Savings schemes and pensions….hehe!