I read this for the Manomet Writers Group. They are a great bunch who write everything from poetry to historical fiction. I wrestled with their prompt until finally making it the first line and letting it take over. I called it Bowling.
“It is all about the language.”
That’s what Sadiq says with his Indian accent when I ask him how I can just let go and forgive. That was at my last session. I’m sitting in his office, three stories up, trying to get a view of the world outside through two errant slats.
His voice has a quality that annoys; it is a voice with improper inflection, it is a flowchart customer service voice from Bangalore.
I talked to a female for an appointment the first time. Her’s was a voice that knew the language, all cool and powdery; it could get a man to do anything. It seemed like false advertising when I arrived for my first appointment and she wasn’t around to greet me. I’ve been to ten sessions with Sadiq and I still haven’t laid eyes on her. I want to call and change an appointment just to hear that voice again.
When I walked into the office this time I slumped into the leather chair, it squawked at the indignity—the only language it knows, and I said hi to Sadiq without eye contact.
Sadiq says, “It is better for both if you smile when offering a greeting.”
“What if we’re both driving?” I ask.
Driving. That’s how all this started. I was driving along, minding my own business, when a bowling ball crashed through the windshield of my car and caved in my face. At the trial for the two kids, they wanted to fine me for launching over the rail trying to get at them. I admit I had murderous intent. But who wouldn’t after what they did to me. They only got a year’s probation for hurling a bowling ball from the overpass. I got a year’s worth of reconstructive surgery. The grudge I bear is all I have to balance out the universe.
“I suppose if you are both in a car…”
“We’re both in our own cars. There are two. So there’s glass between us.”
“You are making this very difficult.”
“Just saying, you know, what if?”
“All right. If there is glass between you and the other person, you should just wave.”
“What if I really want to give ‘em one of these instead?” I hold up the single digit salute, hand shaking slightly with intensity. It is a language that makes us all at least bilingual.
Sadiq has to look away from it. He stares blankly at the People magazine cover shot of whoever and then looks back at me.
“That would be inappropriate.”
Inappropriate. This session is inappropriate. My health care provider is paying this out-of-towner beaucoup buckage to talk me back to sanity so I don’t go out and hunt those bastards down. Yeah, I suppose Sadiq is right. It is all about the language. If I give him and the people he answers to the right language, they can stop watching me long enough that I can go seek revenge; with my own bowling ball.
For me it’s about balance. Ask me before all this came down how I felt about crime and punishment and I would have spewed out liberal crap about rehabilitation. Now I want and eye for an eye, plus something for the hassle factor. Punk bastards.
To Sadiq I say, “Yeah, I know. I was just testing you to see what you’d say. I would never—ever do that in real life.”
He sits back in his chair and it creaks back and forth once. He has his fingers folded like he’s doing the here’s-the-church-here’s-the-steeple-thing with his index fingers pressed against his lips. His beady rat eyes take in my flat affect. I decide to continue:
“Listen Sadiq, I just want to move on. My face looks better than ever thanks to Doctor Mowgli. I’m sure those two young bowlers have done a lot of growing up over the last year and would never do anything like that again. For me, coming here is like cutting the wounds open again and again.”
He sits up, places his palms flat on the desk, pondering what he is going to say. For me it feels like watching the showdown of Texas Hold ‘em on the Sports Network. It is a moment of intense reflection. Tells are calculated and the shades are off.
Finally he says, “You bear those two no ill will?”
I can feel the burn in my eye sockets as I hold back the crying screaming violent desire to pummel this ridiculous example of humanity to a bloody pulp. His perfectly supple and permanently tanned skin needs a good hammering with a meat tenderizer.
I do one of my facial exercises; the one that lifts the corners of my mouth into a smile. I’m getting good at that one based on his reaction. My unspoken language is clear.
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to save them from a burning building,” I say.
Sadiq freezes, waiting for me to finish.
“But I wouldn’t light the fire either.”
There is a notable slump of relief in Sadiq’s posture. He opens the folder in front of him, looks up at me briefly, and signs the release form. He leans back in his chair again, making it creak.
“I think it is time you got on with your life, Mr. Dawson.”
“Thanks,” I say.
Outwardly I’m joyful.
Inwardly…I’m thinking about bowling.