Elaine taught herself early to walk with her gaze cast down. Which mostly is different from down cast, just not in reference to Elaine. Elaine didn’t want to catch anyone’s gaze, because she was a sad, introverted sod. She had been this way as long as anyone could remember, even since the start of high school.
She was hung up on her own company, her own little world. Like that was the only bit that she saw in colour, the rest being a murky shade of beige; a form of astigmatism, just of the brain.
It meant, of course, that she rarely encountered the need to compromise, counter ways of approaching contentious situations rarely swimming into view. It was not as though she ventured into the beer-garden of her local for the rough and tumble exchange of views on a Sunday afternoon over summer, while ‘Ray’s Five’ belted out Ellington, or something that resembled Ellington, once in a while. No. Elaine stayed at home, trowling her vegetable garden as her cats chased skinks through the carrot heads gone to seed.
Elaine had always been ‘of the soil’, whereas the rest of us spent our time hanging outside the ‘Happy Daze’ milk bar next door to the 7/11 mini-mart down from the new mall. When I say ‘the rest of us’, I mean the gang of us from the estate who caught the 7:25 to Greenfields High during the ‘70s. Elaine was part of this group, this gang. But she did not actually join in. Looking back, it is hard to say when we realised that she wasn’t with us. Just like it is hard to say she made a conscious decision to take a different path. Suddenly, there she was going down that path, while the rest of us were going down this path.
Something to do with tangents. Our yellow, brick road took us straight to the glittering Emerald City. No passing ‘Go’; no collecting $200. Elaine’s brick road was so overgrown with vines and ivy that it was difficult to disentangle one’s legs. Elaine would have found herself looking at her feet constantly to ensure that she did not fall. Sometimes though, to know where you’re heading, it is useful to watch where you are going. Maybe that is how it was for Elaine.
As we walked up the main drive and into the old auditorium for our High School reunion, I took to thinking about Elaine, and others, who did not live up to the promise that they showed during those high school years. I wondered who calibrated the concept of ‘promise’, and who was I to be doing the measuring. I scanned the ageing faces for features I recognised amidst the wrinkles and the grey, but found my eyes seeking refuge in the name tag pinned to their right breast pocket.
I slunk over to the buffet table, helping myself to lashings of potato salad and bread with real butter, when a firm tap on my shoulder spun me around quick time. I knew who it was instantly, even as my eyes sought reassurance from the tag.