Dean knew he’d had enough breakfast to see him through to lunch. He drank a glass of water then went through the French doors to have a cigarette. He drew the smoke into his lungs like a drowning man gasps for air.
God. He whispered the name to himself. Not as a swear word, but rather in awe of the way this name kept cropping up. What was it about God that was so powerful through all these stories? Why had he spoken so clearly to these young people and not to him? The restlessness swept through him, but he ignored it. These sensations were a trial for him. They distracted him from what he was doing. Try as he might he had never managed to control them.
God had never done anything for him. If anything he had deserted him and left him half the man he had been. He looked down at the hated stick. He had had so many hopes and dreams, even in his mid-forties, of places he wanted to go and things he wanted to do. Huh! Most of those ideas had shattered when he landed, crumpled up like a piece of waste paper, on the tarmac less than ten miles from here. Like the plans to walk the length of Britain with Barry and Greg. They had completed the walk without him.
Anger attacked him. He was still so angry – at the driver; at the agony; at the inability of the doctors to put things right; at his friends for walking anyway; at Victor, his brother, who had told him it was hopeless and he was wasting his time trying to walk again. At God.
Yes, at God. He stopped in surprise at the thought. He had never understood before that he was angry at God. He wasn’t even sure if he believed in God. He had always been self-sufficient, and God had certainly not been around for him on the day of the accident.
Or had he? The doctors said it was a miracle he had survived. And the physiotherapists said the same when he got up out of his wheelchair and walked, step by step leaving his crutches and his walker behind.
Only the stick was left. He’d lived with this stick for twenty five years. What had he accomplished in that time? What had happened to his dreams? He felt useless, defeated. And the wretched feeling of being watched that made him so restless would not leave him alone. It had bothered him this whole weekend. He slammed the stick down on the paving stones in frustration then limped back inside and stabbed the cigarette out in an ashtray on the bedside table.
He decided he wouldn’t go back to join the others. The silence and solitude of his room were inviting. They could carry on with their stories about God and how wonderful their lives were. He’d had enough. He would stay in his room and read the newspaper which had been delivered early this morning. He hadn’t even had time to look at it yet.
“Dean?” The gentle knock broke into his thoughts. He turned away to go into the bathroom. Perhaps he could pretend he hadn’t heard her. He could just ignore it.
But the woman knocked again.
“Dean, it’s Sandra, are you there? Are you going to join us, or would you like some time out?”
Yes, he’d like some time out. But he knew he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t let his old pupils down however misguided they seemed to him. They were so pleased he had joined them. He had to go back.
“Yes, I’m here. I’m on my way,” he called.
“Oh, good, I’ll see you in the lounge, then.” He could hear the relief in her voice.
He washed his face and cleaned his teeth, buying time. It was a struggle to leave the seclusion of his room. He stopped to gaze out of the French doors for a moment, arguing with himself. But he knew he had no choice. He had to go back.
Right. No more hesitation. Just do this. He closed the bedroom door behind him with more force than was necessary and took some of his anger out on the corridor carpet, thumping his stick down at every step. By the time he reached the lounge where the others were gathering, he felt a little better.
“Is everyone here?” Simon glanced around the room. “Right. It’s your turn, Rob.”
“Well, I’m going to start my story by admitting something to you guys that I haven’t told many people before.
“I was an angry young man when I attended the Class of 1990.”
Dean sat up, his own anger at the forefront of his mind. He had never considered any of these folk could have experienced anger. Not the way he had.
“Let me tell you why.
“Two years before the class, my parents had a daughter. I had been an only child for thirteen years. I’d been spoilt and much loved. Both my parents had good jobs. We weren’t wealthy, but everything they had was mine for the taking. If I needed new soccer boots, I got them. If I wanted to see a film, they would take me to see it.
“Looking back, I think I must have been an obnoxious little brat.”
“I adored my baby sister, June. I thought she was perfect. I’d never seen such an exquisite baby. But she took a lot of the attention I was used to having. I didn’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault. She was so charming. But I did blame my parents. I felt rejected. Suddenly, the soccer boots had to last a whole season. Mom and Dad were not available to cart me around as they used to do. I didn’t like that at all, and my anger grew stronger as I grew older.
“Dean’s story touched me deeply. It has helped to mould me into the person I have become. Here it is.”