It was dark by the time Kathy reached Sam’s house. She wondered if she was doing the right thing, back in the country for only a few hours she made this her first stop after dropping her stuff at home. Emma was back which saved her the anxiety of facing her presence as she tried to delve out some clarity as to where things stood between her and Sam.
Before she had left Kathy was fairly comfortable with the ambiguity that prevailed. There was a hint of a possibility that it might develop into something more than their present friendship but she also had the comfort of not having to put the emotional effort in. She could enjoy his company and leave it at that.
At least that was what she had told herself. As she left the shores of familiarity she queried her own conclusions. If she was really so happy with the easy comfortable in-between option they seemed to be pursuing by default, then why was it Sam she made an effort to see on the eve of her departure she asked herself. Why was it Sam she missed when she touched down and the same who she wished to talk to and tell of the experiences new and disorientating that had greeted her in Benin.
On the couple of occasions they had spent time alone it had started off awkward and eased into pleasant, even enjoyable. But it hadn’t sent her heart on fire, her breath wasn’t taken away in his presence, she didn’t lie in bed think about him as she was convinced she would when the right one came along. Kathy walked up the steps slowly, almost as if she could delay the inevitable by a sufficiently long time that it would not have to happen. But, she told herself, I am the one who chose this, and she recalled how their nascent relationship had encountered an inauspicious beginning because of her reluctance to turn up on time.
Emma had warned her that Sam could be unpredictable, that he spun from distant to infatuated, and back round to act as though you were never there, and he would do that in the course of an evening, or even a conversation. But Kathy hadn’t found that to be Sam’s defining quality, he had been stable in his awkward affection she felt. This left her in this easy position, that laid her open to manipulating him. Kathy saw how she could get what she wanted from him, how with a little flirting and flattery she could have the boyfriend she wanted, or alternatively the convenient male friend.
It was also slightly unsettling that as they passed on the stairwell when Kathy dropped her bags in her room that Emma told her to go easy with Sam when she disclosed that was where she was heading. She had not intention of being harsh, but she wasn’t inclined towards charity without good reason and Emma provided none when pressed. That was a complicating factor Kathy thought, this being her friend’s brother, and as she reflected she realised that her and Emma had drifted over the past few months. In the halcyon days of high summer when the exams were over and their trip to France was being sketched on beer mats the idea of living together in London as they found their way in life was a dream she could not imagine would come true. But the reality was different. It was murkier and it was less satisfying.
Kathy felt in a position that she was obliged to not do something in relation to Sam not because she didn’t want to, nor because she cherished her friendship with Emma so highly, but more out of obligation and a sense that it could be awkward if it all went pear-shaped and were still living together. But then not doing something could be the worst option. It would leave the situation moulded by ambiguity and shrouded in assumptions as to what the other thought and felt. It was because of this that Kathy had resolved as she flew home that she needed to define the relationship she had or could be about to have with Sam.
It was not going to be an easy conversation at the best of times, but Kathy knew in theory and thought she was about to learn in practice that the hard conversations are always worth having even if they are challenging at the time. What Kathy had not prepared herself was the vacancy that had inhabited the place where Sam’s critical faculties would usually be contained.
“Sam, it’s good to see you, how’s it been back here in London?” Kathy opted to start on a casual front but knew her nerves would not last for long.
“Pretty much the same as always, same old rubbish ruining everyone’s life.” Sam had been surprised when Kathy asked to call round and he did not want to turn her away, it was one of the bright points of the past few days. He had not yet decided what to do about Alex and Adam, it had kept him awake most of the night before last and he’d woken early in a panic that he’d not only lose his friend and his pastor if it all came out into the open but also his job. “How was Benin?” It was the obvious question and it also moved it away from himself and his own morose mood.
“Frankly, it was incredible. I’m not sure how I’m going to get my head around it all, it was completely unbelievable. I’ve got to make my mind up in the next few weeks whether I want to go back in the New Year for a longer stint. As in probably for at least two years.”
Sam was by now getting used to the avalanche of emotions that greeted him exponential frequency. But this was one too many. He just looked at Kathy at stared straight past her. He realised what she was saying, and he knew he didn’t have the answer, knew that at the current rate of things wouldn’t have an answer in any visible time frame. All he had at hand right now was bewilderment and confusion. All he could process was hurt and betrayal.
“And you think you will go back?” Sam moved to shut down any implication that this decision might have anything to do with him, “You sound excited enough about it.”
“I’m excited, but I’m a bit unsure, it’s such a shift. I never imagined that I would end up becoming a missionary, every thing has moved so fast, it’s as though I haven’t had time to properly think about it.” Kathy watched Sam attentively as she spoke, looking for any sign that he might be sending calling her to stay, asking her not to leave.
Instead, Sam stuck to practicalities, “What were you doing out there, I’m guessing not standing on a street corner preaching and giving out tracks!”
“Well, actually, there was a bit of track handing out, but more about water and hygiene that about Christianity. It’s a pretty laid back organisation, most of the work they do is focused on poverty relief and community development. If I go back I’ll be based in a village and probably not see another white person from one month to the next unless I go into the capital.”
Sam grasped the magnitude of the decision that Kathy faced, and the extent of the change she was seemingly willing to embrace. He sat back in the chair he had chosen as an alternative to the one Kathy had placed herself in. Sam had chosen to sit close but not next to her. It was a more deliberate choice than he was perhaps conscious of. It surprised him how even in the little things he was governed by his attractions. When with a group of friends boarding a bus he would structure the order in which they stepped onto the bus to enable him to sit next to the person he would prefer to spend the next few moments with.
And in the past this would have certainly been Alex, she would have been the focus of his extended effort, and he had expected his feelings towards Kathy to cause his previous emotional attachment to ebb away. In its place Same thought he would be looking for any opportunity to spend in Kathy’s company. Sam had made a conscious decision to leave Talitha alone, it was a nonsense pipe dream, not only was she unavailable, not only was she not a Christian, but she had offered no indication that there was any reciprocal attraction.
In the moment that Kathy was effectively asking Sam to stop her from going abroad and leaving everything that she knew and all that provided security, Sam was not able to oblige. His mind was elsewhere. He was not even engaging in the casual flirting that he slipped into when in the presence of an attractive girl, the behaviour that came and went without intention but was governed nonetheless by the feeling provoked in him by their presence and attention.
Sam maintained his distance he sat still, he spoke in measured tones, he failed to lean in to express his excitement, he muttered the words in a monotone that betrayed his disinterest. It wasn’t quite that he intended to act this way. If he had allowed himself the time and energy to think about it he would have said that he should make an effort, Sam would have acknowledged, to himself at least, that there was a modicum of attraction towards Kathy that he wanted to nurture. However, in the present that faded fast from view – Sam was not looking to build any relationships. Instead he was more consumed with anger and hatred and could not find a way of releasing it without causing considerable destruction.
As he drifted away in his thoughts to once again consider how he could resolve his dilemma, as Sam planned what he would say to Alex, how he would create a showdown with the Reverend Doctor, Kathy looked on, pained by his lack of interest, distraught by his coolness. Sam was vaguely aware of the impression that he was giving, and aware that it was not the one he would choose to give, but was unable to snap out of his melancholy and exude the attention that she was demanding.
“Sam, I want us to spend some time together over the next couple of weeks.” Kathy countered his lethargy with a direct assault. “I want to see if there is anything between us, I don’t want to be stupid and pretend something is going on when it’s not but nor do I want to go blindly into the future missing something that could be right in front of me.”
“I suppose that’s a good idea. I guess we should take sometime to have a think about it. As well as spending time together we need to also have time apart. There’s a lot going on at the moment that I need to process, and I’m not sure I’m able to give this the thought that you want me to.”
“What’s up Sam? You’re not the same as you were before, has something gone on while I’ve been away? Am I making a fool of myself, turning up on your doorstep, effectively begging you for attention?”
“No, you’re not making a fool of yourself, I’m sorry for being so vacant. I want to give this some thought, I really do. And I really want to spend some time with you. I’m being obtuse, I know, I’m not trying to be elusive, I just need to sort some stuff out, and I wish with all my heart that I could tell you, maybe you’ll find out at some point in the future, but hopefully not.”
“Sam, if we’re going to think about this together we’re both going to need to be open.”
“I will be as open as I can be, but some things are just not mine to share, and I’m sorry that this is one of them. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Oh, the old: ‘it’s not you it’s me’ malarkey, seriously Sam, Emma has said you can be a bit emotionally detached, but this is just ridiculous.” Kathy’s frustration was no longer contained, she wanted to find out what the person sat in the adjacent chair was thinking, she wanted to know how he felt towards her. Instead all she received was a barrage of elliptical statements that added up to nothing less than apparent disinterest, only slightly tempered by the occasional word of solace that was not matched by his actions.
Sam knew that he’d not handled it well, when Kathy had said she was coming over he thought he’d be able to rouse himself from the slumber that had haunted him for the past forty eight hours. He had thought that the presence of the girl he thought he liked would bring levity to his soul. He hoped it would help banish the torment that had gripped him, help him push it all to the back of his mind. Instead it had thrust it to the front. He knew that he would have to deal with Alex before he could move on. There was a conversation he could not avoid.