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When the Good Times Ran Out

by Uma Girish


The afternoon sun slanted in long, golden fingers making warm patterns on the cool mosaic floor. Ami and I sat at her kitchen table, holding steaming mugs of coffee, wrapped in contentment. It seemed like a precious moment to seal a friendship, the seeds of which had been sown barely eight months ago.

"If ever I do something to hurt you I'll be the first to say sorry. You know I really care about our friendship, don't you?"

I nodded, my eyes locking with hers, a hint of moisture in both.

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The words that sounded as sonorous as a solemn vow lay in bitter shards just two months following that glorious afternoon we shared. But I had little inkling of the future of our friendship when Ami blew into my life as unexpectedly as a gust. I'd known many friends but she came to be special. In a matter of days she belonged in the league of my soft, downy pillow, age-worn bathroom sandals, and faded red t-shirt with a bullet-ridden look. When we got together over a vodka or one of her famous mocktails, the mirth simply flowed.

Ami guffawed at bawdy jokes without the morally uppity demeanour of some of my other friends. She dreamed impossible dreams, painted and sang with rare passion, and cooked up some great meals.

I remember the time she dressed me up in her slinky, sexy black dress that draped me right down to my ankles, piled my hair into a bouffant, had me climb onto her outrageously tall stilettos, and whooped with glee. When I collapsed from my 'stilts' we giggled like a pair of adolescents dressing up for junior prom. She was that kind of person -- someone who instantly drew out the child in me and helped me revel in the forgotten wonder of it.

We met at our kids' school where she volunteered as Craft teacher. As we talked we discovered a shared language -- one of delight in life's small events, a love of kids, the need to indulge our fancies and have a rollicking time. So what if we were moms.

Ami's place was the only one where I'd drop in unannounced, stay for a meal, curl up on the couch, and grab a much-needed nap while her musician husband soothingly twanged guitar strings in the background, and the kids exploded a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle all over the floor in the room inside. I'd stir lazily as the aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifted into my nostrils and tickled my senses awake.

I had no clue that our friendship was a time-bound gift from God. I never realised time was ticking as we sang the afternoons away, nostalgic seventies' numbers we'd grown up with; or sat on the beach mesmerised by the pinks and golds streaking across the dawn sky. I had not the slightest inkling that this friendship wouldn't amble into the age when we'd discuss our grown children and dream for them, and look forward to grandkids. But in the moment, we were like buds that open to the morning sun's warming rays, giving of ourselves to each other.

Ami had a strong sense of justice and a wild temper that often bubbled to the surface when we trod on controversial territory -- Do Men Make Better Lovers? or Is the Woman Responsible For a Waning Sex Life After the Kids?  She argued and fought, her feminist instincts finely honed and ready to ward off male attack that arrived in any form. Her words charged the air around us, her eyes, glowing embers, adding to the drama.

It was often that my husband and Ami embraced tangential viewpoints. But they laughed it all off good-humouredly at the end of what often turned out to be a 'sound and light' show.

Until that evening when Ami and family came home for dinner.

She seemed visibly upset as she shared with us that a common friend's seven-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with a 'panic attack' syndrome. The parents were devastated. The shrink they'd been referred to had pointed out areas of deviation from parental responsibility and forced some hard truths down. Ami thought this callous and called the shrink some unmentionable names, charging her with attempting to destroy Sunny, the father's, self-confidence.

"I can't see where the shrink has gone wrong. She was just doing her job. In fact I'd mentioned a couple of those things to Sunny myself..." my husband Gir, always the voice of sanity, stated matter-of-factly.

"How can you even talk like that?" It was clear Ami was perhaps more shattered than any of us.

"Ami, the shrink had to be honest. She had to help him see where he was going wrong."

"She had no business to hitting a man when he was down!"

"She wasn't. She was just trying to tell it like it is. What is the point in deceiving him? Sunny can't spend the rest of his life hiding from those truths. If he faces up to them and takes her advice it'll do his girl a world of good."

Gir was trying hard to help Ami see reason but she was now twisting the ends of her handkerchief with agitated fingers, her eyes welling up with pain, confusion, anger.

"I find this disgusting. I don't want to hear any more. I just want to leave.."

It was at this point when Gir realised that Ami's emotions were spinning out of control. Resting his hands on her shoulders, he looked into her eyes and said, "Look, I've always believed in confronting the truth head on. And I know you're the same. But I can see you're upset. We won't talk about this any more. I'm sorry, it wasn't my intention to hurt you."

Ami grabbed her evening bag even as Gir spoke and headed in the direction of the front door.

"We're still friends, Ami. Look, I'm sorry. Don't leave like this."

Ami's heels were already clacking down the first flight of stairs and it was close to two in the morning. Darkness shrouded the city. The eerie howl of a lonely dog was the only sound that pierced the silence. Gir ran after her, down the stairs, out the gate, and across the road as her husband cranked up their old van. Putting an arm around her, Gir apologised once again, as he saw her into the van. Ami shrugged off his draping arm and drew the van door shut.

The dinner was cold and untouched. We grabbed a bite for sheer sustenance and stacked the dishes. We laughed off Ami's fiery outburst that had whipped around us like a thunderstorm, even as we slid under the covers.

"Give her some time, she'll be fine in a couple of days," I said, stifling a yawn.

***************

A couple of days. A couple more. And then some. Weeks sped by on pixie feet. The phone remained mute. Ami walked out of our house, and, it appeared, our lives, that night. I want to have nothing more to do with them, her message was delivered home by common friends.

Ironically, Sunny, over whom the argument was played out to such a fatalistic conclusion, came to rely heavily on Gir and the two became closer than ever as the family regrouped to take stock of the situation and initiate measures to cope with the little girl's problem.

Gir and I were amazed, angry, resentful -- all in stages. Disbelief turned to a cold anger that settled over our hearts, and clouded feelings of forgiveness. Was that all she cared? Could we be breaking up over something as trivial as this?!

A year of silence, unspoken recriminations and fermenting emotions went by. Ami had chucked our friendship right out the window without a second thought.. But once the fury inside me grew impotent, I began to feel sad. The lost friendship started to gnaw at me. When I heard a song she sang or saw an old book we'd shared I hurt that something so beautiful lay broken in pieces around us. But hurting was useless, it achieved nothing. Slowly I began to feel the need to extend a hand, to reach out and help my reluctant friend cross that emotional bridge.

I tossed the idea around in my head. How would she react if I landed up at her place? I resolved to go, then I backed off in an agony of indecision.

It was a hot September afternoon when I finally plucked up the courage and went to her house carrying my peace. I was more than a little nervous. Endless possibilities flip-flopped inside my head. What if she wasn't home? Should I wait? Should I leave a note? Would she slam the door on my face? Insult me?

She was home and very awkward.

"May I come in?" I asked softly. "Of course," she gestured me in.

Then she did everything she could not to look me in the eye. She wiped the table, rearranged scattered magazines, laid the table, answered a phone call....

I settled down at the table, the same one where we'd shared coffee and some significant vows.

"We need to talk," I started.
"There is nothing to talk about," she leafed through a bunch of envelopes with urgent fingers.
"Yes, there is. Why did you walk out of our place that night and stay out?"
"I couldn't believe I was listening to Gir say the stuff he was. I always thought he was so different from the average male ... but after what happened..."
"Gir was being honest. And if anyone ought to understand that, it's you, considering how strongly you feel about issues. And ... and look where this has got all of us, Ami. Gir and Sunny are closer than ever. Sunny had no problems with what Gir said because he believed it came from the genuine concern of a true friend. He actually had the courage to say he deserved to know where he was going wrong."
"What kind of a friend is Gir? If I have a problem tomorrow, he could well turn around and tell me the shrink was right and that I deserved what I got."
"Aren't you being a little unfair here?"
"Maybe I am. But something snapped inside me when I heard those words and I decided I was finished with you guys. That's just the way I am."

After a good twenty minutes of a pointless verbal volley I walked out defeated.

I went home, called Gir and told him all that had happened.

"I give up. I know when I'm beaten." My voice was tired.

"No, you haven't been beaten. You're the one that's come out victorious in this, don't you see? Not me, not Ami. You truly cared, and cared enough to give this friendship a second chance. It took courage to go over and face Ami like you did, and try to mend things. But friendship is a two-way thing, the other person's got to want it as bad as you. Ami obviously isn't ready. Maybe she never will be. But you can never be accused of not trying."

I saw Ami across the aisle at the mall a few days later. She looked right through me. I felt a familiar pain pierce me. And then I squared my shoulders and told myself with a finality: it doesn't matter. In my heart I know I have tried. And sometimes the effort of trying can be greater than the answer that falls into your lap. We were meant to stumble into each other´s lives and experience a special intensity. And that's all it was meant to be.

It's time to move on.

Bio: Uma Girish is a full-time freelancer based in Chennai, India. Her work has been published on “Sulekha”, “Einkwell”, “Seven Seas”, “Absolute Write”, as well as a variety of magazines and newspapers in India. Her 9-year-old has, over the years, provided enough fodder for articles and opinion pieces on parenting and childcare. She does author interviews, and book reviews, and writes on relationships, lifestyle trends, and personal essays about strongly-felt issues. Her fiction, for both adults and children, has won awards. Her manuscript on Reading To Children is currently being considered by a publisher. Uma also visits local schools to conduct sessions on Creative Writing, and read to third graders. You may contact her at umagirish@vsnl.com

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