He was one of my closest friends except that he was about 20 years older and married with two children. Our friendship was cemented by the fact that our families were also close, which made it easy for us to meet without raising many eyebrows. Or so we thought. Before long, innocent remarks turned to point-blank accusations about the unusual nature of our friendship — gender, age and close proximity, all working against us.
It didn’t help that our solution to this problem was to meet discreetly, because we genuinely believed that people were over-reacting. And then I left the city for greener pastures and things went back to normal. As the distance between us increased, so did the innocent nature of our relationship in the eyes of former disapprovers. And then like a hailstorm on a sunny day, everything changed.
This happened one summer afternoon when I returned home to intern at his event management company. I was invited to an official brainstorming session. My colleagues and I were pleased that the venue was a beach shack with plenty of cocktails to jump-start our grey cells. Soon enough, the official plan of action was abandoned and people got down to more interesting business — getting drunk. He and I went for a walk on the beach.
A tipsy colleague joined us but only for a while. We were standing at the water’s edge when he confessed, “I’m attracted to you. I can’t control myself.” That was all I heard before he tried to kiss me. I pushed him away. Although he apologised and tried to make light of the situation, I felt disgusted that I had allowed myself to be duped. He had set up his game well, leading me to believe that our friendship was real. Not a word was exchanged on the way home. We were travelling in the same car.
The only call he made after that evening was to tell me that although he wasn’t sorry for what he did, he felt he owed me an explanation. I was shocked. This was the same friend who had counselled me through my personal problems, had played chaperon on my first clubbing night and participated in my family’s Christmas lunches.
The contrast in personalities was so shocking. He knew that I wouldn’t destroy his family by telling them about this incident. I was forced to be silent.
Three years later
Fast forward to three years. The status quo persists. We still meet at family functions but there’s a wall between us. His wife has noticed the impasse. Perhaps she likes to put it down to natural causes rather than find out the truth. My only victory is that I’m not afraid to look him in the eye, stare him down till he squirms in his seat.
A victory that is sweetened by the knowledge that he’s still caught in the same unhappy position of pretending that we’re friends.. to save face in front of his family and mine. Maybe silence does have its rewards.