Student or Learner
This is the fourth part of my short story "Departure. I would appreciate very much if someone could proofread it.
He could not anticipate at that time that his celibacy was only a prelude into his solitude. When the attractive women left him bored and empty, what kind of impression would make their less attractive men? They were mostly silent and they would seldom complain, except on those occasions when alcohol would float in their veins and then they would dare to tell what they could only dream about while sober. When he tried to discuss with them about the state of society and consumerism which had poisoned everything, they told him that if he did not like it here, he could always return to his bloody country where people cut each other’s throats.
Soon he understood that it was impossible to discuss with them about their homeland whether they were sober or drunk. They had grown up with the conviction that they were simply the best in the world, so anyone questioning that belief was treated like a heretic who should burn at the stake. He would return home angry, swearing and promising himself never to discuss such topics again, never to waste his energy on such arrogant people who certainly saw him as an uncivilised man coming from an uncivilised country.
However, he could not blame them. On TV and in the papers the only pictures people could see from his homeland had been of killing and destruction. Apparently, they sold best of all. They raised the quotas of viewers and readers and that was the most important thing in this society.
Once he sat in his room going through his experiences, remembering how he always overreacted while his interlocutors remained calm, not showing any emotion and he understood that if he wanted to stay healthy and not have a nervous breakdown in the future he had to emulate them, just as the old saying, “When in Rome, behave like a Roman.” Since that day, he would talk only when he was spoken to or when he asked for something. Otherwise, he had gradually learnt to master the art of small talk, which he would use whenever he talked with the natives.
Now sitting on the bench and watching a flock of ducks floating in the middle of the river, he was thinking that in all those years the only time when he could open his heart and talk with others like a human being it was when he sat on this very bench with the groups of drunkards who would usually come here every afternoon if it was not so cold or raining. They would carry plastic bags and backpacks filled with beer and wine and take their places on the bench or sat down on the wooden boards beside.
They would immediately open their cans and bottles, say cheers and start their drinking which would continue until the evening. He never liked alcohol much, but he never dared to decline an invitation to join them and have a beer. Sometimes he would buy a carton of beer and give it to them as a gift. He would stand aside and watch them tearing the wrapping off and clutching the cans in their hands with the twinkling in their eyes as if they were small children entering a sweet shop.
These wizened men who washed seldom and smelled badly in the summer became his consolation when he was depressed. One could always talk to them without an appointment and they never glanced at the watch to see how many minutes of the interview had remained. Many years before they told him that he should leave this country as soon as possible and not wait to become stuck here like themselves and wither away like a plant without light. A man in his fifties who looked at least fifteen years older said to him, “You know, mate, this society hurts a human being.”
The man had died since, but he had never forgotten his words and was reminded of them constantly especially when he saw the weak fighting in vain for justice. At the beginning, he did not attach importance to their thoughts, but as time went by, he appreciated them greatly. These men who were slowly killing themselves, had once come here just as he himself, escaping war, poverty or unemployment. Some of them came because of love, education or adventure.
Once in the past they all had a job, home, friends and were respectable members of society. Now they only had their lives, which had been ruining themselves from inside. If he had been weak, he would have succumbed to addiction and become one of them. But he was of another kind. When he came here he felt like a sapling which the slightest windblast could uproot. Now he was like an old oak which neither heavy rain nor strong wind nor frozen snow could harm.
TO BE CONTINUED
I wonder if I could I change the above sentence, "When the attractive women left him bored and empty ..." which is unclear into for example,
"He asked himself when the attractive women left him bored and empty, what could he expect from their shy, uncommunicative men."