Expectation: unmet

Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: EXPECTATION.


Lunchtime. Got to get our of this place for awhile, Rusty thought as he set off for the cafe down on the corner. On his way, he dropped into the staffroom to collect the mail. Might as well see if there’s anything worth reading, he thought as he flicked through the half dozen envelopes he held in his hand. Only one caught his attention, a hand-addressed envelope. He put it in his pocket.

Sitting in the cafe as he finished his meal with the strong, nutty-flavoured cuppuccino this place made, he remembered the envelope. Retracting it from his pocket, he opened it, unfolded the pages and sat back to read. There, that early afternoon in that corner cafe, the past came back to life…

Dear Rusty,
I had no expectation you would come back, Rusty. You just went and I carried on here. You said you would return. You said you would come back to us here in this old sharehouse. That was our expectation.

Only you didn’t.

I understand the offer to stand in for that photographer who had come home for a few months to recover from his accident was too good to say no to. I knew you would accept it as soon as you told us about it over dinner that night.

You said you had three days to make a decision, but I knew your mind was already made up. I knew that because I would see you reading those Life magazines with their photo essays of the war. You had got that job with that news agency — AAP wasn’t it? — some months before and that led to the offer to replace that photographer after you told them that you had been a photographer for some time. I know you were just trying to open up opportunities for yourself, and that you didn’t know about that other photographer when you told them that you would be interested in that type of work were any to become available.

I remember you rushing off to the print lab in town to get together a portfolio of images the agency wanted to see before considering you for that stand-in job in Saigon. Wasn’t it because their other photographers were already working in Vietnam or somewhere and they didn’t want to move one just for a few months? Then, a couple weeks later, you were gone.

I wanted to come to the airport to say goodbye to you that morning. You said no, no need to. But I wanted to because I wanted you to come back here after your assignment though, as I said, we had no expectation about anything even though we had started that very casual and desultory relationship — was that really what it was? There was something I wanted to tell you but I didn’t because I didn’t want to have any expectation of you or you to have any of me. I thought we would work something out when you came home. But you didn’t.

Well, those few months became more months. Sure, we would get your occasional letter at the sharehouse and Rob would read them to us after dinner. We were concerned for your safety though you said you spent most of your time in Saigon. Was that true?

Then we heard nothing from you. Where were you, we would wonder? Were you okay? We didn’t know that after that assignment ended you had gone to California. Sure, we found out later, just before our sharehouse broke up and we all went our own ways. What was that? Seven months after you had left?

And so we went on with our lives. You completely disappeared. When I ran into Rob again… what was it?… maybe fourteen years after that time… he told me that he had recently seen a story in some international magazine and saw you credited as photographer. He didn’t know if it was actually you or some other photographer with the same name. But he though it probably was you. But what were you doing wherever it was you had been… something about some place in the Middle East was it? I don’t remember any details.

Rob also asked me about what had happened just after our sharehouse broke up. Hadn’t we made any arrangement before you left? Didn’t we have any expectations of each other when you would return? I told him you didn’t know, that I thought it not best not to say anything that morning when you took the taxi to the airport. Was I a moral coward for doing that?

Now I have found you again. You won’t know that until you read this letter. I found you because just by chance I was flicking through a course prospectus, I think it was, that someone had left in a cafe. And there was this information about a media course. I started reading it in that semi-disinterested, absent-minded way you do when you’re waiting for your coffee. Then, suddenly, something reached out to grab me. Full attention. It was the mention of your name as photography teacher in the course.

For weeks I agonised about contacting you. Then I found the courage to write this letter. And now I don’t know how to tell you.

I’ve said that back in those days when you left that I had something that I really wanted to say to you that morning you took the taxi to the airport. I guess it’s why, after you said no need to bother to come to the airport to say goodbye, I didn’t insist on coming with you. I just stood there on the footpath and watched you drive away, watched you drive out of my life.

I’ve also said that I said nothing because I didn’t want to burden you with expectations, especially since our relationship, such that it was, had none of the committment that people make when they plan to start something more serious. I also didn’t want to burden you with knowledge that could limit what you were doing.

So I just want to let you know that she is doing well and has followed you in working in the media. She’s a journalist and for the past few years she has been working with an NGO in Africa, coming and going to produce stories and photographs for the agency. Just last week she informed me that she was going to be stationed over there, probably for a few months while someone was on leave recovering from illness. It was like deja vu and my mind leapt back all those years to that morning you closed the taxi door and drove out of my life.

So, in letting you know about what I wanted to say to you that morning you left in the taxi, it occurs to me that maybe it’s something genetic, this business about journalism and photography. Anyway, I thought you would like to know our daughter is doing well in life.

Love from times past


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