By Chris Pais
Kevin ripped open his shirt in the middle of our neighborhood bar and displaying a deep scar that ran along the entire length of his chest, he said, “You should see the other guy!” He did not tell us that the other guy was the board-certified Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the local hospital where Kevin recently underwent his triple bypass surgery.
Kevin was in his fifties and conducted his life not just by saying a lot, but by leaving a lot unsaid. He pretended to be a tough guy, a successful businessman, a ladies man, an epitome of good health, a sportsman and a representative of all things brave and masculine. He was entertaining and well-liked but we often felt that there was something about him we could not put our finger on. Discussions about Kevin were rife with speculation and scandal, but usually ended up with no conclusions.
Kevin and I were part of a small circle of friends who grew up in the same town and have known each other since we were teenagers. He was divorced and was going through difficulties with his finances and his health, but he refused to admit it and said things that led one to believe the contrary. “I just got a perfect bill of health from my doctor,” he once declared, failing to clarify that he was talking about his podiatrist. He often told us, “My wife is the love of my life and we have a perfect romance,” neglecting to add that his sentiments were not reciprocated. “I’ve decided to change the pace a bit. Kick it up a notch. Try something different. I’m tired of doing the same old thing,” he said one evening as we were all having our customary drinks in our neighborhood bar. We found out a few days later that Kevin was laid off.
He came from a wealthy family and when we were growing up, we envied him for his expensive clothes, bicycles, sporting gear and cars. We were roommates in college, and although he did not have to, he worked as a cashier in the cafeteria. In those days, credit cards were processed using a swiping machine which created a carbon copy imprint of the card. He would take home those imprints and order things for himself using the credit card numbers and have them delivered to the neighbors. He would then intercept the shipments as soon as they were delivered by the mailman. With his family’s wealth, he could easily afford all the things he ordered. When I asked him why he was preying on poor college students, he justified it and said that the students are not held responsible for unauthorized purchases, and the credit card company would absorb these charges anyway. He ran a few other scams in college, the details of which I can no longer recall. After college, we went our separate ways, got married, started families, and finally ended up living in the town we grew up in.
I did not tell any of our friends about Kevin’s nefarious activities in college. I classified them as boyish pranks that one outgrew and I chose to ignore them. However, based on his proclamations and his tentative relationship with the truth, I often wondered if he had a secret life where he continued the scams of his youth to the present day.
Our group of friends met at the bar a few days a week for a quick drink and occasionally we stayed until closing time. For years, I noticed that Kevin always left precisely at 7 PM on Fridays and Saturdays saying he did not want to miss dinner with his family. He did this even when his family was out of town and after his divorce. I found this odd and it added to the nagging suspicions I had about Kevin.
One Friday, I had to go to the other side of town to pick up a part I needed to repair my car. The neighborhood was home to warehouses and small factories and was quite gritty. It was around eight in the evening and as I was driving past the homeless shelter, I saw Kevin’s car in the dimly lit parking lot, unmistakable in its two-tone red and white topcoat. This was a small shelter with a capacity of 20 beds. They opened at 7.30 PM and take in the first twenty residents for the night. A volunteer gives them dinner and does their laundry while they sleep and the next morning, the residents are given a warm breakfast and their clean laundry and are asked to leave when the shelter closes at 8 AM. The first thought I had was that Kevin was homeless and was staying at the shelter, and he did not tell any of us about the poor turn in his fortune. I pulled into the parking lot and walked towards the building. After a few steps, I stopped and wondered if I would embarrass Kevin by my visit. I turned around and started walking back towards my car. As I started the engine and prepared to leave, I decided that I should go in and talk to Kevin and tell him he could stay with me until he could afford a place of his own. I walked back towards the shelter. As I approached the door, I saw a hand-written sign that said: “Welcome. Your Volunteer Today: Mr. Kevin”.
I went back to my car, embarrassed and ashamed. After all these years, it suddenly dawned on me why Kevin left the bar religiously at 7 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. For a person who bragged about every aspect of his life and always painted himself in a very generous light, he never once mentioned his weekly acts of service. I cannot speculate why he kept this side of his life hidden from us. What Kevin left unsaid said a lot about him.
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Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.