Chapter One: The Beginning
When he was fifty, and six months after his last girlfriend had finally left him, Michael decided that everything would change. This understanding had been coming towards him for a while now. It might even have been a large part of the reason why Ruth had left him. He’d felt grief at the time of course, but it had seemed inevitable. Something he couldn’t stop, nor did he want to. On the other hand, the need for change and his own acknowledgement of it was something he had never wanted to alter. It was a choice that had in effect been made for him, but one he yielded to, gladly.
What was less concrete was where the change might lead him. He knew only one thing: that he had to walk away from what was familiar in order to discover the truth. Which was why he found himself, late that Wednesday afternoon with the wintery sun already vanishing into dusk, in his boss’s office, preparing to talk.
He’d always admired Douglas who was a tall man in his late thirties, willowy and dark-haired, someone who exuded normality. He had the kind of family life that had always passed Michael by. He was also decisive in a way Michael was not, which explained his position as director in the small insurance company where Michael himself had only progressed to the heights of financial administrator. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d got there, although the job he did appeared to be good enough for them to keep him on.
It was up to him then to end it.
He waited for Douglas to sit down and take the first sip of his freshly-made coffee. Michael himself had refused the offer. He didn’t see the need to adorn the encounter with any frippery. The conversation would, after all, be what it was and no more. He didn’t need coffee for that. While he waited, he gazed around Douglas’ work domain.
Standard grey walls, adorned here and there with pictures drawn by Douglas’ children. From memory, Michael thought they were round about seven and ten years old, both boys, but he couldn’t bring their names to mind. He should really pay attention more – perhaps that was part of his problem. He’d always been alone.
Douglas’ two shelves were filled with an assortment of insurance magazines, management books, clean mugs and family photos. The difference between the two of them was encapsulated in that alone. Michael kept only spare printer cartridges and his calculator on the one shelf he was allocated. His boss’s desk however paid tribute to the minimalist ethic: nothing was allowed on it for long without being dealt with or destroyed. So he only had his hard-backed A4 notebook, his computer, two reports and the newly-made coffee. Michael smiled.
Douglas smiled back. ‘So what is it, Michael? What can I do for you?’
Michael took a breath, made another small decision.
‘I want to leave,’ he said.
At this announcement, Douglas leaned forward, coffee mug still clutched in his hands. He stared at Michael and repeated his words. ‘You want to leave?’
Michael nodded. ‘Yes.’
He paused, wondering if he should tell the usual lies. Something about it being time to move on, time to take a break, perhaps even face the open spaces of semi-retirement. There was enough money for that as neither of his parents were alive. Then the truth came to him unexpectedly, as clearly as if a window had opened and a fresh spring breeze was flowing over his skin. It felt new, untried but solid. He decided to keep to the truth instead.
‘I’m handing in my notice because I want to learn how to pray again,’ he said.