Isaac Pearlman often thinks about his friend Patrick O’Connell. Both aged fifteen, they were unlikely school friends; Patrick stood at over six foot while Isaac was small for his age. Patrick took no prisoners; anyone showing disrespect for his Irish ancestry was given an opportunity to apologise; failure to do so was severely punished. Isaac was bullied until Patrick stepped in – his ability to split the lid of a wooden school desk with a single head butt intimidated even the most foolhardy of bullies. Most of all, Isaac remembers basking in the light of Patrick’s smile, something that saw him through the darkness as his black dog bayed.
Patrick was always in trouble and frequently sent to the headmaster for punishment by teachers who described him as a Pikey. The staff loathed Isaac because he was ‘a Yid, and too bright by half’. Patrick was expelled before he took his O-levels and he argued that his expulsion was because the headmaster was a coward and only happy when beating small boys like Isaac. Even after Patrick’s expulsion the legendary head butt still protected Isaac.
After Isaac moved on to university he only knew of Patrick through the grapevine. By the age of twenty-one Patrick was running a small jazz club and by twenty-five he owned it. At thirty Patrick was charged with money laundering through the club. Isaac was not surprised to hear that Patrick had disappeared before the trial but was heart-broken, and guilty, that he hadn’t made the effort down the years to see Patrick and had thus foregone the right to say goodbye, but worse, he had not told Patrick of his love.
Twenty years later Isaac is now fifty-two and leading a trade mission to equip the United Arab Emirates with high-end IT. Soon after entering the office of the Prince they discover that, as graduates of Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, they have a lot in common and reminisce as they share coffee.
The pleasantries over, the prince presses a bell and says, It’s time you met my head of procurement. Moments later the door opens and Patrick enters. Isaac is dumfounded as the prince says, May I introduce Mr Reginald Goodfellow.
As Isaac shakes Patrick’s hand he sees the warmth of recognition in his friend’s eyes. I think we’ve met before, Isaac ventures.
I’m sorry, Patrick says, I’m positive we’ve never met.
But, surely .… Isaac falls silent.
Is there something wrong? The Prince asks.
Isaac blows his nose on a handkerchief. Unable to hide his tears, he says. I’m sorry. Overwork. Can we resume tomorrow?
Of course. Reginald, please escort Mr Pearlman to his car.
Outside the office, Isaac whispers, Patrick, I know it’s you. I’ve always loved you and still do.
Once in the fresh air, Patrick says, I’m sorry you’re upset but you must get yourself together before tomorrow or I’m ruined. I’ve missed you too, Isaac, but, just for now, we’re strangers.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.