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Clement's Corner: Vivian

Owen R. Clement tells the satisfying tale of the chance meeting of former university roommates.

It was such a small matter. The argument that Vivian and I had that is, and yet, it remained unresolved for over twenty years. It would have remained so, if not for the accident.

Vivian Singh and I met for the first time when he was invited to move into a home I had rented with my uni mates, Phillip and Craig. Without consulting me first, Phil and Craig decided that they would share one bedroom while Vivian and I, the other.

He had come from a country town in the mid-north coast of New South Wales. His family had moved there to join other family members after their arrival from the Punjab in India. He had the maddening practice of using my personal belongings without asking. If, for instance, I was listening to my radio, he would think nothing of changing the station to suit his taste. He would also use my ball point pen and then leave it on his desk or even put it in his pocket, again without my permission. If he had asked I would have gladly let him listen to his station or lent him my pen. But to do so without asking was, in my opinion, extremely annoying. I said nothing at first, hoping that he would notice that the rest of us didn’t carry out these practises.

Finally, after a couple of weeks I could not contain myself any longer and asked quite sharply if he would cease these annoying habits. I expected him to be furious instead he apologised profusely, saying he was not aware that I would disapprove of what he was doing.

A few days after my complaint, I could see that he was holding something back. When I pressed him as to what it was, to my surprise he expressed his disbelief at how slack Phil, Craig and I were regarding our studies. We had an opportunity very few had from where he had come from, and here we were wasting our time by slacking off, drinking and sleeping with girls. If we didn’t want to use our time effectively, we should give up our space to those sho would appreciate it more.

At first the three of us were outraged by his criticisms. But then we took heed of what he had said and settled down. It amazed me to see how this change of attitude soon spread to others around the campus. Vivian benefited as well, as we gladly helped him in areas he had found difficult to manage or comprehend. Sadly I realised that although he had a good grasp of his subjects, English being his second language, meant that his presentations were poorly written. I was pleased to see he had a good brain and I believed before long he would improve.

Late one evening, I realise now with the coming examinations, we were both worn-out from long hours of swatting, we had a heated argument, about what it was I could not remember. It could have been that without thinking I had called him a stupid bastard or some other derogatory term. He became distant and stopped speaking to any of us. A few days later, without saying a word while we were out he packed up left Sydney before reparations could be made.

To my amazement, which I found out later, he was one of the ambulancemen who had attended me when I was injured after a car accident about twenty years later, just outside Coffs Harbour.

At the hospital next day, he called to check on me. He also asked how Phil and Craig were getting along. It took me a while to equate the balding, moustachioed thick-set man with the slender fine-boned youth I had known during our university years. I could not have been more delighted to meet up with him again. After reminiscing for some time on our student days, I let him know that Phillip, Craig and I had wondered over the years what had happened to cause him to leave so unexpectedly without saying a word. Not offering me any explanation, he merely smiled and shook my hand. I held onto his hand and asked, ‘For the life of me, Vivian I cannot remember what we the hell had argued about, do you?’

This time he laughed out loud and said, ‘I did not leave because of anything anyone had said or done, I had to return to my home urgently as my father had been taken seriously ill with a stroke. Shortly after that he died and I had to take over running the banana plantation until it could be sold. I too wanted to contact you and let you all know where I was, but life had become too frenetic and as time passed it became harder. Consequently, I never did. I must say though, I am delighted to meet up with you again.’

I handed him my notebook and my ball-point pen and asked him to jot down his address and phone number, which he did.

‘We’ll continue this conversation when I’m off duty,’ he said. With that he gave a brief wave and left pointedly putting my pen in his pocket.

I smiled but said nothing.

By Owen R. Clement © clement2012


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