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Open Features: No Prophet

Owen Clement tells a story of a chance meeting that brought enlightenment.

‘Indian Summer’, some called it. However, it only lasted one day; and that is a day that I will never forget.

I had taken Mitzi to the beachside park. Letting her loose she trotted off to explore the bushes and to be herself explored by other dogs.

I noticed a young man at the other end of the bench where I had sat down. He was slumped over, his long legs extended, crossed at the ankles, a look of utter despair on his face. My first reaction was to ask him if he was okay. Being much older I was concerned that he may misinterpret my intentions. Mitzi raced up. I patted her and satisfied that I could be easily located, ran off again. There was no reaction from the young man. He seemed locked in his own misery.

“Quite warm this time of year,'' I finally offered cheerily. He barely glanced my way before turning away slightly.

“Sorry,'' I said as I stood up, ‘but I couldn’t help noticing that you looked really down. ‘Misery loves company, they say. I’m feeling a bit flat myself. I’ve recently retired you see and feeling a bit lost. My dog Mitzi is all I have now. I talk to her, but sadly she rarely listens.'' I wondered if my weak attempt at humour was the best way to get a reaction. “That is what I miss most, having no one to talk to”.

“You divorced?” he asked. turning and looking my way.

“My wife died four years ago. Breast cancer.”


“Matt Harmon .'' I said holding out my hand.

“Derek Gurney.'' he said shaking my hand.

“You know, you remind me of my kid brother Scott, years ago. I can see him now sitting just as you are with his legs stuck out in front. lost in thought. We were very close but I think we must have come from different planets. It must be forty years ago but I still remember him taking his own life. There were no signs that he was depressed. I blamed myself for years thinking that our lack of compatibility was the cause. It wasn’t of course. He had a mental illness that had never been diagnosed.

Derek pulled up his legs and. rubbing his wrist, turned his head away.

“Listen to me. I thought I might cheer you up and instead all I’m doing is dumping my woes onto you. Sorry.''

I called Mitzi.

“It’s okay,'' he said. “I’m sorry about your brother though. It must have been pretty awful for you. Did you ever find out what pushed him over the edge?”

“That was the hardest part. Not knowing. None of the family could go through his things for weeks. One night, not being able to sleep with thinking of him, I decided to start sorting through his stuff. I began to search for his journal, I knew he had one, to see if it could give me a clue. When I did find it, there was nothing. And then I remembered that the only thing he had ever wanted to do was to act. But Dad would not hear of him doing it as a livelihood. In his opinion, and he was right, the acting profession is very chancy.

"Without telling us Scott auditioned for a part in a TV soap. When Dad found out he hit the roof saying that if he still wanted to take up the acting profession he could do it after he had a degree. Scott appeared to go along with it, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree.''

Derek’s mouth curved in a grin, “No prophet in his own country, eh?''

Not hearing him I begged his pardon.

“It’s an biblical expression. From Matthew. “A prophet is not without honour save in his own country. Do you know it?”

I shook my head.

“I know it only too well,'' Derek said. “It was really good talking to you. Sorry, I must go.''

He pushed himself up, gave me a weak wave and strode off with his head up and his hands deep in his pockets.

I called Mitzi, took her home and looked the saying up in Matthew. ‘How true’ I thought. I finally had some sort of answer.

© Clement 2009


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