Mr. Bartholomew was a little man with a semi baldhead and a thin face. He had a frail stature, which gave him a caricatured appearance. He was standing in the middle of a tight circle with many people standing all around the periphery and all of them were talking at the same time. The little man at the centre was looking helplessly around trying to figure out any of the words thrown at him from all directions or identify any of the faces surrounding him. Some of them were very angry, and some were very sad. Yet some more were displaying varying emotions ranging between extreme horror and extreme shock. He continued to go round and round in his futile attempt until he collapsed and fell down…
Bartholomew jumped up in his bed covered with cold sweat. He couldn’t figure out the meaning of this nightmare. He tried very hard to remember any of the faces who were crowding the periphery of the circle without success. He looked out the window… A full moon was shining gloriously in the clear sky of the summer night and a nice breeze was whiffing through. He got out of bed, wiped off his cold sweat, walked out of his bedroom, and staggered downstairs to the kitchen. There was an eerie stillness in the enormous house he shared with his sister who was at age 35 one year older than he was. He drank a little water and slowly went back to his room and sat at the edge of his bed. He was too scared to go back to sleep. Finally, his tired eyes caught a glimpse of the letter on his dresser… Ah…the letter…that must be it…the last thing he did before going to sleep was reading that letter. He read it several times, because he couldn’t believe what was written there…he stood up and went to the dresser…his hand reached out to pick it up again…but in the last moment he changed his mind. Like a zombie, he walked back to bed and threw his tired body on it. In a few minutes, his face was twitching and his eyes opened into a fixed stare… inside the agonizing scene of the new nightmare he was looking at, he saw many fingers pointing at him from every direction. He could hear the voices of unseen people mingled together in an incoherent screeching tune… and finally he saw the hands reach out to choke him while he tried to find an escape route in vain. His hands stretched out to ward off the ethereal assailants and eventually he jumped out of bed again panting and grabbing thin air in utter horror.
In the middle of the night and fighting all these nightmares, Bartholomew seemed pathetically weak and fragile. However, in the course of his daily activities he was known to be the little steel man. To other people, he appeared unyielding and unshakeable. His subordinates at work as well as his superiors would not dare disagree with, or contradict Mark Bartholomew. His knowledge base was enviable and his skills were unmatched. It was a matter of fact…Mark Bartholomew was untouchable. Of course, that led to the inevitable result that he was as much loathed as admired. The problem was that he saw things completely different. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw a small weak man who needed to be constantly on his toes ready to protect himself from the unrelenting onslaught of a cruel and unfriendly world. He felt that he needed to prove himself every single day if he ever had a chance to survive in an environment where respect and appreciation were only reserved for the powerful and the rich.
His problem was compounded when he – like many other men – decided it was time for him to get married. After much scrutiny and tedious search, he thought he found the right girl to be his wife. Even then, he had many days of calculating and weighing in all the possible scenarios and outcomes. Finally, he made the daring move to ask her to marry him. To his shock and horror, her immediate answer was a flat and emphatic No. That…was the one scenario, which never crossed his mind. In sheer disbelief, he asked her for an explanation. She simply told him that she didn’t believe that she owed him any explanation. When he insisted, the result was…the letter.
“Who do you think you are?” She wrote, “You may frighten others by your sadistic and arrogant attitude, but that wouldn’t frighten me into destroying my life by marrying you…”
The words jumped out of the page like knives slashing at his very soul. He was now sitting at the edge of his bed like a man drunk with cheap booze. He stumbled out of the room again and into his bathroom. When he turned on the light, it felt like a blinding jolt of lightening. He looked at the mirror trying to figure out why he cannot see the ‘sadistic and arrogant’ person she was talking about? Indeed, who did he think he was? He sat down on the toilet seat and thought to himself. “Another man would be angry and ask, who did she think she was? Oh but…not me… I know me…I know the true me…yet I cannot let that be revealed…not to her and not to any one else…they’ll walk all over me if they see how weak and small I am.”
The little man was shaking as he walked back to his bedroom. He looked at the letter again and he felt more words shoot out off the page like darts, “when I decide to marry, it will be to a man I love. Did you ever hear about that kind of emotion Mr. Bartholomew? Does the word exist in your lexicon? Does it even ring a bell? Look around you. Do you see anybody who loves you or any body whom you love?”
He fell into one of the two armchairs next to the window and took a long look at the golden clock housing his gold pen and sitting quietly on the cocktail table since it was given to him as a gift by a friend a few years back. Was that out of love? Is that what they call love? Yes, it was in return for his help to secure a fantastic deal on some commercial investments for that friend. But he never asked the friend for any kind of pay back. His help was merely based on good business protocol. Probably that took it all away from the sphere of what is called love. “Oh, well…” He thought, “What is love then? Why do I understand the complicated logarithms of business and finance and yet find it sorely difficult to understand something as simple and mundane as that…”
Mr. Bartholomew turned his head around to look at the large picture of his late father hanging on the wall. The thin face filling the picture was hiding behind a large moustache and the small eyes betrayed a bright and sharp intellect. He adored his father. Well… he feared him more than adored him. Wasn’t that love? His lips moved in an inaudible whisper, “why didn’t you teach me love?” then he suddenly realized it was the wrong question. Is love something you can teach to others? Does it have rules and equations or a knowledge base like everything else? Can it be evaluated, exchanged and traded? How do you put a tangible value to…love? Why does it have to be so naïve that it seems to be only accessible to the simple minded and people of limited intellect?
He was so frustrated. His head was throbbing with a headache and his eyes were bloodshot. The first rays of dawn were beginning to creep up the horizon, when he thought of going back to bed again. He pulled the weight of his frail body off the chair and moved towards the bed when suddenly the phone rang. He looked at his watch in amazement. Who would dare call him so early in the morning? He was about to ignore it, when he realized that it must be some overwhelming matter that would embolden anybody to venture calling him at such hour. He sat on the bed next to the night stand and picked up the phone.
“Who is this?” He growled.
“Mark? This is Sykes…,” the caller said.
“Oh, Hello Mr. Rydel. It is quite a surprise…” He answered his boss in an irritated tone.
“Mark…please…I am sorry to bother you so early in the morning. But you know that today Fred was going to Houston to finalize the deal with the Browns.” Sykes Pleaded.
“Yes I know…I prepared everything for him. He shall practically have to go and sign a few papers…he doesn’t have to do anything more.” Mark said impatiently.
“Unfortunately, Fred’s son had to be rushed to the hospital half an hour ago. No one knows what’s wrong with the kid and his father is going nuts. Mark…please…you are the only one who can save that deal. You know all the details and…” the man was ready to go on pleading and begging when he was pleasantly interrupted by a calm and collective Bartholomew,
“All right…I shall go… Let Samantha make the reservations.”
Sykes Rydel couldn’t believe he was hearing those words. It was quite unusual for Mark Bartholomew to give in so easily. What he didn’t know was that Mark welcomed the opportunity to fly away for a day or two at the hope of recollecting his tattered thoughts and feelings and find a way to resume some kind of normalcy. In the mean time, as he hung up the phone, Mr. Bartholomew thought, “the kid was sick…so what? Why should his father go berserk over that? My father never lost his cool no matter how sick I was. Oh, is that love? Love my foot!”
Mark Bartholomew spent three days of non-stop work in Houston. The Browns were so impressed, that they decided to expand their business with the company. With a freshly bloated ego, totally obliterating his inner sense of inadequacy he finished his task and was ready to go back home. In his rush to catch the flight on time, he uncharacteristically forgot to check the gas in the rental car. He didn’t realize his grave mistake until he was in the middle of a highway in what seemed like no man’s land. The wilderness surrounding the place extended as far as the eye could see in all directions. As if to add to his misery and deflate all his pride, he found that his cell phone battery was dead. He became so angry that he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs. He stepped out of the car and hoped that another driver might be generous enough to give him a lift. Very few cars passed by. Only three cars passed in the course of an hour. They were driving so fast that no one even took notice of his presence. The only driver to stop was a truck driver in the opposite direction who offered to take him back to the city. He curmudgeonly refused and instead used the man’s cell phone to call the rental car company. Almost when all hope to catch his plane was lost, he saw a very old car coming by in the opposite direction. The driver was an elderly lady who saw him and stopped. When he was about to wave her away with a silly smile, the woman got out of her car and walked to him,
“Would you like to come along sir?” the woman said.
“Sorry Ma’m don’t you see I am going in the other direction? To the airport…I had used the cell phone of that truck driver to call the rental car company but nobody showed up yet” Bartholomew clamored impatiently.
“To the airport…?” The woman exclaimed. “Oh poor dear… You must be worried you may miss your flight. Come…come in with me I shall take you there.”
A shocked Bartholomew looked at the stranger suspiciously. For once in his life, he was stupefied. He slowly reminded the woman, “Ma’m it’s in the opposite direction.”
“I know…I know. Come; hurry so you don’t miss your flight. I am afraid my car is a little old and I cannot drive too fast.” She said apologetically.
Mark Bartholomew was beside himself…he carried his little bag and walked obediently to the woman’s car. He didn’t know how to react. This kind of behavior was new to him. As he settled in the passenger seat next to the woman who began to talk ever so friendly to him, he thought to himself, “She couldn’t be a crook or a thief…but of course she must be expecting some decent pay back for such generosity. Well, I don’t mind, I shall give her whatever she asks for… if she really helps me catch that plane.”
“My name is Mary. I was on my way to visit my sister. Our church has a big festival to honor St. Mary this time of the year. I like that festival very much. Next time when you come around here, you must come and enjoy this with us. Oh, sorry…I didn’t ask if you were Christian. Please forgive me.” The woman spoke while trying hard to push the gas pedal as far as she could. When Bartholomew did not answer, she added,
“Sorry, I don’t mean to pry…” she started.
“Oh, Yes…I am…um…I am a…Christian that is.” Mark mumbled.
Mary continued her narrative about her sister, her church and everything else, while Mark was only concerned about the minutes ticking away and his fading hope to catch the flight. When he set out to the airport he thought he would have plenty of time to do some shopping and be the first to board the plane. Why in the world did he have to rush and not check the gas in the stupid car? He even declined a dinner invitation by Susan Brown to make sure he got that flight. Just as Mary was pulling up towards the Continental airlines terminal, Mark looked at his watch to see the hands already a few minutes past the due time. As he rushed to pick his little bag, the plane flew overhead with a roar that gave him a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Was that your flight?” Mary’s shaking voice asked.
“Yes…yes that was it,” a disheartened Mark yelled in utmost frustration, “I don’t ever remember any of my previous flights take off so precisely on time.”
“I am sorry sir…you did not tell me your name…I am so sorry…” she kept repeating.
“Not at all… You have done more than anybody would humanly expect.” A restrained Mark said in a tone that was strange even to him, “I must thank you for going out of your way to help me. I am willing to pay you whatever you ask for anyway.” He got some cash out of his pocket and was beginning to count the bills.
“Money…?” the woman was very astonished, “Now why should you insult me like that sir?” she was very indignant as she continued, “For the Love of Jesus, you would have done the same for me…or any other who needed it…wouldn’t you?”
“My name is Mark…” A totally befuddled Mark answered, “and…no…no Mary. For the love of Jesus or for any other reason in the world, I wouldn’t have done it for you or for anybody else.” He was shaking with a new and strange kind of anger he never experienced before as he was brutally honest, “I am sorry…but that is me…this does not make sense to me…it doesn’t add up.”
“Mark…” Mary said with a resigned smile unable to hide her puzzlement, “It is all right. I am sorry you missed your plane. I hope you reach home safely.” With that, she turned around to look at the road and drove off.
Mr. Bartholomew stood there for a few moments almost delirious. He soon regained his composure, turned around and walked to the Continental desk.
The next flight would be two hours later. So he thought about the shopping he wanted to do and quickly changed his mind. He disgustedly strolled to a restaurant and when the waiter came to him, he ordered the first thing he saw on the menu. When the food came, he realized that he ordered enough food for four people. His mind immediately registered, “this is not my day. How can I make so many mistakes in one day? I never make mistakes…especially stupid mistakes like these.” Before he touched the food, he noticed that he was being watched. A young gruff looking teen ager was eyeing him at a distance. His clothes were dirty and he looked emaciated. He didn’t seem to be a threat. The restaurant had no walls and was practically open on all sides for anyone to walk in. Mark couldn’t feel comfortable to start eating with this person watching…especially with all that huge amount of food on the table. Before he realized what he was doing, he beckoned the young man to come over. The vagrant was only too eager to oblige.
“…’re you hungry…?” Mark asked. The young man nodded his head several times.
“Ok…sit down and eat.” Mark commanded. As the drifter began to dig in, Mark watched silently while sipping his drink slowly. When his guest slowed down, Mark asked, “When was the last time you ate?”
“Yesterday…” the man mumbled suspiciously.
“You don’t have a place to live or a family?” Bartholomew asked. His guest shook his head negatively without looking at him.
“Well eat your fill, and take the rest with you.” Mark said looking away and beginning to feel a strange nip in his stomach, “Why don’t you find a job instead of …instead of …this?” Bartholomew asked.
“I had a job a few months back…I worked as a bus boy in ‘the Pelican’s Restaurant’…back in Houston. But I had to leave…I mean…it’s complicated” the hungry man said while chewing his food.
“Sure…it’s always complicated.” Retorted Bartholomew sarcastically.
After he finished eating, the man said. “Sir, would you please ask the waiter to bring a box for me to take the rest of the food as you promised,”
“Sure…” Mark called the waiter and made the order.
“Thank you sir…” The man said politely, “Fact is I only ate yesterday morning…an apple I stole from a supermarket.” His shabby face broke into a smile, “I am not a thief. But I was really hungry.”
“You don’t have to tell me the story of your miserable life…I have encountered enough misery for one day…come to think of it, I’ve seen enough misery to last me a life time.” Mark answered gruffly.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Said the young man, “however, even though I was hungry, I cannot say I am miserable at all.”
Mr. Bartholomew was stumped, “what did you say?” he chuckled and said, “look at you…you have no family, no home and no food…Not miserable? If that is not miserable, I don’t know what is?”
The eyes of the young man lit up and he said, “I live in the Dow Park not too far from here. Every Sunday, I get a nice meal, which a good lady at the church sneaks out, for me. And from time to time some of the people who come to the park…they give me some of their leftovers. When it gets a little rough, I come here at the airport. I am sure to find a fat cat with too much food and money who will be only too glad to give me some food to get rid of me…” the young man chuckled and continued, “see, you fell for it sir…I am sorry…but you fell for it. It never fails”
“You miserable baboon…” Mark laughed merrily now, “you are a good actor…for a moment I thought I’d die if I don’t give you that food. I’d be poisoned or something…I am not the superstitious kind, but it is certainly not comfortable to eat while a hungry person is watching you closely like this…tell me…what is your name little gypsy?”
“My name is Mark…” the young man answered.
“Whoa…Mark eh…is that so?” Mark wondered. And the young Mark nodded cheerfully.
“Well then, tell me Mark…how come you left your home and family to live in the Park…why don’t you go back to live with your parents…get some education or… or profession or…do something with your life?” Bartholomew asked with a slight tinge of humanity in his voice.
“Last year my mother died of cancer. My father spent every last dime on her treatment. He even borrowed money from some thugs to help bury her. Later when he couldn’t pay the loan back, those guys shot him while he was trying to protect me because they wanted to use me for their drug trade until he’d paid the loan. I managed to run away so they don’t find me…I worked in some odd jobs, until I found that job in the Pelican’s. But then one of the gangsters saw me when he came to eat at the restaurant…I had to run for my life.”
“Is this another story you tell everyone you meet to part them with their money.” Bartholomew said sardonically.
The young Mark laughed and said, “No sir, I told you the truth even when it was not pretty. I don’t want your money. I thank God for being safe and away from harm’s way. Besides, Father John from St. Thomas Church promised to find me a job in an auto repair shop…you know…I just wish I could have saved my Dad…I miss him and miss my mother very much, but I know he is happy now being in a much better place with my mother and with Jesus and all the saints…”
“Jesus and all the saints…? Why didn’t you try to apply for some government help? They can help people like___” Bartholomew started, but the young Mark interrupted him,
“No way…thank you. They looked for me all right. But then they would put me in a house where someone will control my life and use me pretty much like those thugs I am running away from. No thank you. I am quite happy the way I am.”
“Do you trust any body now? Do you trust that father what’s his name? Do you trust anybody at all…?” Bartholomew wondered.
“Of course I trust Father John. But other people…well…I don’t need to trust anyone if I am away from everyone,” Answered the runaway and then added. “Do you trust everybody around you?” Mr. Bartholomew reflected for a moment and realized he could not answer that question. But the young man was not finished, “You have a family and kids and all…do you trust them like I trusted my Dad.”
When the young Mark didn’t hear an answer he went on, “My aunt Joan seemed very trust worthy but after my mother died she distanced herself from us and refused to help my Dad with his bills. Frankly, I don’t blame her. She had two children of her own and she wanted to protect her family from us who associated ourselves with thugs and criminals as she said…that is why even though I don’t blame her, I don’t trust her either…I cannot count on anybody like I did with my Dad. Oh…I really loved my dad” The young man closed his eyes for a moment as if to visualize his lost father and when he opened his wet eyes, he surprised Bartholomew with a shocking statement as he said passionately, “I bet you…you would do the same to protect your loved ones too…wouldn’t you?”
That was more like a bullet to Mr. Bartholomew’s heart. He dropped his head down and looked at the young man across the table and without thinking he whispered, “Mark, I don’t have any loved ones …I just have a lot of business associates…and we deal in papers and signatures…the basis of our relationships is to distrust until you get a signed piece of paper.”
The young man was so shocked; his jaw dropped for a few moments and then managed to utter the words, “no loved ones? No wife or children…or father or sister or….” He stopped.
“I have a sister. We live in the same house. We hardly see each other. We exchange notes through the house keeper…yes…may be I trust the house keeper, because she always has her receipts in order and for the past two years she only made a few mistakes…does that sound strange to you Mark?” Bartholomew sounded like a little puzzled child.
After a short period of silence, the young Mark answered slowly, “Sir, I don’t know which one of us is miserable…it certainly is not me…”
Mr. Bartholomew’s flight was now being announced over the loudspeaker. He called the waiter and paid his bill.
“Thank you young Mark. It may surprise you to know that my name is Mark also. We seem to have been destined to meet today somehow. Take care of yourself and stay happy”
A cheerful young Mark laughed and answered, “Oh…Mark? Wow…what do you know? You too Mark… You too… Thank you for the food. And try to get yourself some loved ones.”
Mr. Bartholomew was just about to pull some cash and give it to the young man, when he remembered the charitable Mary’s response, so he changed his mind, nodded good-bye and turned around towards the boarding gate.
A few minutes into the flight, Mark Bartholomew was relaxing in his business class isle seat with a refreshing drink. He pushed his seat back and inescapably his mind began to wander into the days strange events. Mary who changed her travel plan to help a total stranger…and the homeless youngster who thinks you can only be miserable if you have no loved ones…and …
His mind suddenly stopped at a cross roads of sorts…there was a link between these two somehow…he painstakingly went back to visualize each of them and tried to find the connection until he got frustrated and abandoned his attempt. He tried to keep his mind busy thinking about his big success with the Browns. His mission was to go sign the already prepared and negotiated contract of three Million Dollars, and return the following day. Instead, he managed to expand his task… and three days later, he ended up with a contract of fifteen Million Dollar. Both companies are ecstatic about the deal and both are praising him as the most valuable asset they have. No matter how he tried to forget the two strangers he met before his flight, his mind kept straying back to them…again and again. They kind of squeezed themselves next to Sykes Rydel and Susan Brown and the rest of ….
He turned his head to look at the clouds outside the window, so his eyes fell upon the passenger seated next to him in the window seat as he was busy doing some kind of research. He had some open books and papers and he was writing notes all over the place. Mr. Bartholomew noticed that the man was dressed up in a black tunic and had a well-trimmed white and gray beard. Just before he turned to look the other way, his eyes caught a glimpse of a closed book with a large script title “The Holy Bible” and for some indecipherable reason he seemed to feel paralyzed for a few seconds. He couldn’t turn his eyes away from it. Finally, when he could regain his self control, he tried to remember if he had a copy at home. If he had one, he couldn’t remember where he would find it. He thought, ‘probably in the study with the other books.’
“Excuse me sir, may I borrow this book for a minute?” He found himself asking the man.
“Sure,” The man answered cheerfully, “I have already picked the verses I need for my sermon.”
“Sermon…? Are you some kind of a preacher?” Mark asked.
“I am a priest in St. Mary’s Church,” The priest answered.
“Oh…excuse my ignorance…I don’t know much about these things…” Bartholomew said, a little timidly.
“Any particular passage you are interested in…?” the priest asked pointing to the Bible.
“Passage…? Um…I don’t…um…may…may be…is there any passage about…I mean…something about lo..o…you know…the …the meaning of …l…l…love…the meaning of love” The sharp business man stuttered.
“Well of course…this whole book is about love…here…” the priest said grabbing the book and opening it to a specific page, “First Corinthians chapter thirteen.”