O is for Oval
The polite applause rose and fell in waves around The Oval as thousands of dainty fingers touched each other. England had been batting for two hours but were making slow inroads on the scoreboard. Monty’s wide arms held a plate of cucumber sandwiches and the kids asked for lemonade. The July sun was unsure of itself and the weather man had forecast rain showers later.
I stared down at the casts on my leg, the sun shining on its jarring whiteness. I read some of the messages from well-wishers written on it. When I had left 18 months ago, I had been a disgrace. Now I was something of a returning hero. The TV stations had picked up on the strange story of the British boy caught up in the Bosnian war who had been injured and flown home.
For a while the doctors thought I would lose my left leg. But after the swelling subsided, they declared I would probably walk again, although I would have a limp and would need a cane. At 20, I found myself part of a media circus and serious news commentators would ask me for my insights on the war. I lost count of the interviews I had given and felt my stories to be flimsy against the onslaught of questions. The whole episode started to feel so unreal that I started to doubt I had ever been in Bosnia and Jacques and Geraldine seemed like parts of a fragmented dream.
My parents said they had been worried sick by my disappearance and had been elated to see my face on prime time news. When I pointed out I had made the news because of my almost deathly injury, they shrugged and patted me on the back and told me how I was like a cat with nine lives. It seemed impolite to ask if they planned to let me rot in rehab and whenever I mentioned the facility they changed the subject.
One night Monty wheeled my to his gentleman’s club to recount my war ordeal. Lots of hale fellows who were probably Monty’s age but seemed much older placed their arms around my shoulders and urged me to share a glass of port with them.
“You have some great tales,” Monty told me. “I knew you’d make something of yourself in the end.”
The problem was I did not believe I had made anything of myself. I had been to some exotic places and played some strange cameo roles. None of it seemed to be about me. I had no career path and was instead forced to suck up Monty’s stories about how he had rubbed shoulders with Percy Godwin, a millionaire hedge fund guru, who had promised him a berth in his merchant bank, when he was qualified. Monty’s stories invariably revolved around Monty. I would look around at the rapt expressions on the faces of those who listened to him. I would look at the awe my parents reserved for a Monty story as if it was the crescendo of their night.
Only Grace seemed to share some of my skepticism. One day in the bar as Monty described a wager he had made with a colleague that he would make a million by the time he was 25, she shot me an expression that looked like a particularly sour crab apple had put her teeth on edge. I admired my sister’s ability to be completely nonplussed by Monty.
About a month after I had arrived back in England they took off my cast and I was able to walk again with the help of a cane. Monty had arranged a hectic tour of friends and social connections for me but with each appearance my story started to feel more disconnected and forced. I was going through the motions and it showed.
One later night Monty took me aside at the bar. He had chugged down one Chardonnay too many. Bruschetta crumbs clung to his wide chin.
He finally turned to me and there was a vacuous expression in his dark eyes that reminded me of some of the faces I had looked at in Bosnia.
“Look Campbell. I don’t want to be funny but I think your act is past its sell by date. Nobody wants to hear about Bosnia anymore and I’m feeling we hear the same thing every time. Do you mind dreadfully…”
I told him patiently I did not mind dreadfully. In fact, I was heartily sick of the whole routine. He looked taken aback for a moment before becoming distracted by the short skirt of the girl next to him at the bar. I took the opportunity to slip out into the London night and breathed a satisfied sigh at finding myself finally alone.