Listen If You Will

Listen If You Will

Where do stories come from?

Marcus Loh was on his way to The Muse, the adult education centre where they held liberal art workshops and lectures. His professor at City University’s Creative Writing MFA programme had suggested that second year students like Marcus attend the talks about writing, which took place every week, on a Thursday, at the centre. The Muse was near Tower Bridge Road, about five-blocks away from the university. Marcus usually walked there with two or three classmates, but today, he walked alone, because no one else was interested in this evening’s speaker.

“Who is this fella, anyway? He’s hasn’t even been published. He’s just some academic, not a real writer. How about we go to Ministry of Sound instead,” his classmate Sam had said, and the others agreed.

Marcus couldn’t dance, and strobe lights gave him migraines, so he decided he’d stick with the original plan and attend the lecture on his own. He recalled that tonight’s speaker had a South Asian name, but couldn’t remember what it was. According to The Muse’s website, the man was a creative writing and literature teacher at Middlesex University. Prior to his tenure, he had taught English at a public school in Surrey, and before that, he was a technical writer for a tractor manufacturer in Norfolk. This speaker certainly wasn’t in the same league as the BBC scriptwriter or the Man Booker Prize winner who had spoken at The Muse earlier in the year. As Marcus crossed a section of Burgess Park, he remembered the nobody’s name – Mohan Sharma.

It was cold and wet out, and Marcus wondered why he hadn’t just bought a microwavable meal, headed home and plonked himself in front of the television. It was too late now, he was almost at his destination. As consolation, he told himself that perhaps listening to this Sharma fella might give him some direction. Maybe it would help him decide if he should abandon creative writing for a more practical education. As he turned a corner, he pondered the futility of his ambitions.

“Why couldn’t I have picked something safe like banking or business? I’m Singaporean, which means I’m never going to be a good writer. Let’s face it, people from Singapore are boring, we’re like sheep. We’re too obedient to write stories that people will actually want to read. Maybe if I had been born in another place, or in another time, then I could be a real writer. The generation I belong to, Gen X, that doesn’t help either. We’ve had no wars, no suffering, where’re we going to find good stories? I think I should just go back home, study marketing or something else instead.” This was where Marcus’ head was at when he approached the entrance of the five-storey, red-and-black building where The Muse was located. He entered the front door, rode the elevator up to the third floor, exited and made his way down a narrow corridor to a white door, which opened to a small auditorium with a thrust stage.

Up on the stage, Marcus saw a plump, Indian man with a thick, peppery beard. The man looked like he was in his sixties, but the perky brown bowler hat, and green and purple striped shirt he wore made him look spryer than his lined face and greying mane suggested. His eyes were bright, and with his hands in his pockets, he looked completely at ease as he surveyed the new arrivals.

Marcus took a seat five rows from the front of the stage. He looked around and noted that there were less than a dozen people in the audience, half of them attending to their mobile phones. He felt a little sorry for the speaker, who would have to address such a paltry crowd, but the man didn’t look like he was in need of any pity. He walked along the edge of the stage, smiling and making eye contact with every member in the audience, as if acknowledging each personally.

Then he stopped in the middle of the stage. “Thank you all for being here,” he said clasping his hands together. “The weather is miserable today, isn’t it? I’m sure many of you would rather be snug and dry at home. I’ll do my best to make this worth your while. My name is Mohan Sharma, and I teach creative writing and literature at Middlesex University. This evening, I’ll be talking about finding stories, and the importance of truth in fiction.”

Marcus sunk back into his seat and listened.

“My students frequently tell me they cannot find anything to write about, that pulling things out of their head is too difficult. I tell them that inspiration is all around, that as long as they breathe, they have a story to tell. Pick up the newspaper, there’s something there. Ask your neighbour how their day was, and you might find an idea. I’ve noticed that most of my students who are new to creative writing tend to lean towards autobiography or melodrama. There’s nothing wrong with memoir, but most people’s assessments of themselves are seldom accurate, or interesting. Some of my students have wonderful imaginations, but they work only from fantasy, so their stories have the quality of a Hollywood movie, over the top plots, and characters that are larger than life. The problem with so many of us who write, is that we have forgotten how to tell the simple and beautiful truth, so we resort to gimmicks to get attention. But really, who can blame us right? Because isn’t that what we writers need? Just a little extra attention?”

Marcus found himself nodding at Sharma’s comment, and thought about why he started writing in the first place. As a child, his parents, both lawyers, had been devoted to their careers, so it was his maternal grandmother and an Indonesian nanny who looked after him. They took good care of his basic needs, but had little patience for the type of talk and activities that engaged or excited a growing child. Whenever he was lucky enough to get some time with his parents, they were often either too tired or too distracted by other matters to play with him. As an only child, and a shy one at that, Marcus spent a great deal of his childhood alone, and had to find ways to keep himself entertainment. Most evenings, his parents only returned home after he had gone to bed. As Marcus got older, he wanted to tell this mother and father how his days went: how he got an A in art class, that one of the boys at school put chewing gum in his hair, that he found a spider in the kitchen and had set it free in the garden, that he finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo and loved it. Because his parents weren’t available, he would report on the events of the day by writing about them on little sheets of note paper, which he would then attach to the fridge door with a magnet before going to bed. In the mornings, he would see a smiley face, a sad face, a thumbs-up, a star, or a heart, drawn by either his father or mother, under his notes. This made Marcus happy, and each day he wrote more. Sometimes there would be as many as seven sheets of notepaper on the fridge.

“This Sharma guy is so right”, thought Marcus, a little attention was probably all he had ever wanted. Marcus took off his glasses and began wiping it with his lens-cleaning cloth – a nervous habit acquired from childhood – as he continued listening to the charismatic man on stage.

“We writers live so much in our own heads that it’s easy for us to disassociate from others,” Sharma continued. “We’re terrific isolators. We’re obsessed with our own peculiar realities. And when we do use our words to make human contact, we are too eager to impress, we try too hard. It all comes out garbled, and we create worlds that nobody else can or wants to see. Uninhabitable landscapes born of our own grandiosity, amusing only to us and no one else. It’s the need to show off that gets in the way, isn’t it? Our desire to impress, or gain reward for our labours, distracts us from the task of telling the tale.”

Marcus found that he agreed with Sharma on this point too. How often had he been stuck on an essay, not because he did not have the facts, but because he had wanted to sound insightful or original to his teachers and peers. Earlier this week, during Monday’s “open mic” session, when the MFA students were required to share a piece of new writing in front of the entire class, Marcus had nothing to read because he hadn’t prepared any new material.

“I’m sorry, Professor. Sorry everyone. I started on something, but I haven’t had the time to finish it. I’ll have something ready by next week,” he lied.

“That’s a shame,” his professor replied, not looking not at Marcus but at the manuscript in his hands that another student had just read and submitted, “This will bring down your overall grade for the semester.”

The truth was, Marcus hadn’t written anything. His presentations at “open mic” earlier in the semester had left him so deflated that he doubted everything he wrote. His previous four stories were so heavily criticised by his professor and classmates that Marcus began to think he had chosen his course of education too hastily. He felt like he was the worst writer in his class. On the days leading up to the past Monday’s “open mic”, Marcus had sat in front of his laptop for hours. He had written one paragraph, which contained the idea for a story. Then he would read the paragraph and think it so bad that he’d delete it. He did this at least half a dozen times before finally giving up. Rather than torturing himself trying to write, he had escaped to books. He read a short story collection by Donald Barthelme, an account of the Meiji Restoration by a journalist named Tomogawa Shunjenki, and a debut novel by Saba Karam, a twenty-five year old author who, just three years older than him, had published In These Shoes, which occupied the number five spot on The Guardian’s bestseller list. The more Marcus read, the less he wanted to turn on his computer and begin work. “Why should I bother?” he had thought. “Everything worth saying has already been said. The world is full of good writers and great literature. It doesn’t need another amateur like me.”

Sometime after Marcus purchased In These Shoes, he read an interview with Saba Karam in The White Review. The article said that Karam had grown up in Beirut near the end of the Lebanese Civil War. When she was a teenager, her parents, both orderlies, were killed during a hospital bombing, and she was sent to live with her aunt in Los Angeles. While there, she was violated by one of her cousins. She ran away, started using drugs and worked the streets of Sunset Boulevard for some time. Then one day, she met a social worker who encouraged her keep a journal and write in it whenever she felt overwhelmed by life. Through journaling, Karam discovered her talent for writing, and began to write her novel, which sold more 70,000 copies within six months of its release.

“With a past like that, of course she has a story to tell,” thought Marcus looking at the photo of the fresh-faced Karam on the back of the book jacket. “She’s had life with enough material for interesting content, a life worthy of a writer.” He recalled a quote from Ernest Hemingway – In order to write about life, first you must live it, which confirmed his assumptions. Unlike Hemingway, and unlike Karam, scrawny Marcus Loh, with his thick glasses and floppy hair, has had no great adventures, except for two years of compulsory National Service with the Singapore Army, which felt like an extended camping trip. He has suffered neither great nor minor misfortune, except perhaps the death of his pet hamster Elvis when he was eight, and a bad case of shingles when he was fourteen. In some circles he’d be called a nerd, in others, a bookworm, or a sheltered, Asian momma’s boy. Marcus believed that if people were colours, he would be beige. He was ashamed of his lack of experience with life, and he feared he had absolutely nothing of value to say.

Marcus became aware that Sharma was now looking directly at him, and felt guilty that he had been distracted by his own thoughts.

“Don’t worry too much about being a successful writer, or even an above average one,” said Sharma. Marcus felt that statement was meant just for him.

“Just write. Just tell what you see, what you hear,” said Sharma. “We don’t need to live large lives to do this. We just need to care enough to look hard and listen well. Be interested in the people around you. Be open. You don’t need big words, or a life packed with excitement, though that can help sometimes. If you really want to tell stories, what you’ll need is a new pair of eyes. Some people think fiction is drivel. On the contrary. Nothing reveals the terrain of the human heart more truthfully than a well-told lie.”

Sharma then began telling his audience a story.

“When I was a boy in Jaipur, I had to walk past a temple on the way to the market. On the steps of this temple I saw an old woman. Her face looked like melted wax. On the right side, she had no ear, and an empty socket where an eye should have been. Her jaw and lips looked like they had sunk into the middle of her face, and her mouth was twisted into a perpetual lipless gasp, exposing jaundiced teeth and purplish gums. Her right arm ended at the elbow in a rounded, pinkish stump. If anyone dared to come near enough to her, she’d follow them and say, ‘Good day kind sir. No, no, I don’t want your money. The temple feeds me. But can you sit with me for a while? I want to tell you about my life.’

One day, she approached me and asked me to listen to her story. At first I was frightened by her appearance and thought I should avoid her. But I was also curious to learn how she ended up looking the way she did. So I stopped to listen. This was what she told me.

‘Before I was born, when I was just a seed in my mother’s womb, my father thought he saw her under an oleander tree with a man who looked like a demon. She told him he had been out in the sun for too long, and was seeing things. But he was certain about what he saw. It made his stomach churn with rage, and he wanted my mother dead. He made some poison from the bark of the oleander tree and mixed it into the nettle tea that she drank every morning. But my mother was strong, so the poison did not kill her. It went from her blood into mine, melting my growing bones and flesh. When I slid out from between her legs, she took one look at me and screamed. My father insisted that I was not his child, but the offspring of the demon under the tree. He and his family chased us out of their home, and away from our village. My mother and I moved from village to village, eating the scraps that people threw out for the cows. Whenever we arrived at a new place, mother would find a temple where she could pray, asking Krishna to heal me. But the villagers did not want me inside their temple; they thought my ugliness would offend Krishna. They threw stones at me and chased me out. So whenever my mother went inside to pray, I would sit at the steps outside, waiting for her. It was in this very temple that my mother died, so I have decided to stay here. Thankfully, people have changed, and the new pujaris at the temple are generous. They give me three meals a day and a mat in the temple courtyard to sleep on. Sometimes I look at the men who carry heavy rocks all day in the hot sun, or the women going back and forth with the big urns of water on their heads. My heart aches for them. I am so lucky that I do not have to toil under the sun all day with such heavy loads, because I am so hideous, nobody will hire me. I just sit outside the temple and watch the world go by. I have food and shelter. To entertain myself, I think up stories. I can read your fortune too. Spinning stories and fortune telling, it’s not that different really. Would you like me to read your future?’”

Marcus was now leaning forward, trying to envision what this woman looked like, the sound of her voice. “How lonely she must have been,” he thought. The people in the crowd, who were slumping in their seats at the beginning of the talk, were now sitting straighter. They were all looking up at Sharma.

“Two years later, I came by the temple again, and the same old lady was there on the steps. I walked up to her. ‘Hello madam,’ I said. ‘Do you remember me? Can I sit with you for a while?’ The old woman contorted her mouth into what could have very well been a smile, then patted the step that she sat on, inviting me to join her. I sat a little closer to her this time. This was what she told me.

‘I once lived with my husband and three sons, in a village not too far from Jaipur. We are dalits, the unclean and untouchable, and in this village, everyone was of a higher caste than us. I could tell that nobody in the village wanted us there, and I told my husband we should leave. My husband was a proud and stubborn man, and he insisted that as long as we stayed, everyone would eventually come to accept us because they would see that we were good people. But this did not happen. Instead the villagers’ hatred grew and spread like cobra venom. Every day, their gossip and dirty looks became darker and more vicious, until it became a pregnant storm cloud that had no choice but to break. When one of our neighbours lost two goats in a week, the villagers concluded that we were witches. I would wake up in the mornings, and the front door of our hut would be smeared with chicken blood or goat dung. Then more goats began to die. One night, I heard banging on the door. I opened it and saw twelve men armed with knives and axes. They barged into our home and seized my three children. They threw my infant son against the wall, breaking his neck. They ran their knives across the throats of my two older boys. Then they tore my clothes and took turns at me. I tried to break free from their clutches, but one of the men swung his axe upon me, severing my arm at the elbow. When my husband tried to save me, they sunk an axe into his skull. Then they made a fire, grabbed me by the hair and tried to burn me alive. They pushed my face, this side, into the flames for what felt like forever, but I struggled free and ran as fast as I could into the darkness. I must have fainted in the middle of the night, because when I woke up, there was a doctor standing next to me, tending to my wounds. After my wounds healed, the people who ran the hospital took pity on me and hired me as a dhobi wallah. Every evening, after I finish work, I come to sit on these steps. You see, this temple is where the villagers come for their final blessings before they die. My grandmother once told me that Lord Krishna sees everything, but just to be sure, I will remain here to remind Krishna of those who did this to me. I want to make sure that when they die, he sends their souls to Naraka.’

Marcus and the others in the auditorium were listening intently as Sharma explained that Naraka was the Hindu version of hell. They had put their mobile phones away, perked up, and were giving him their full attention.

Sharma continued. “When I was twenty, I left Jaipur and moved to Norfolk to live with my uncle and attend university. After completing my studies, I went back to Jaipur for a holiday, and to visit my parents. I decided to go to the temple to see if the old woman was there. Indeed she was. It had been five years since we last met. I walked up to her and asked her if she remembered me. The woman, who had shrunk with age, looked up at me, puzzled.

‘I can tell you yes and make you happy. But the truth is, no. I don’t remember you. I see so many people every day and they all look the same, not so special-looking like me,’ she laughed. ‘But what does the truth matter? People choose what they want to hear and see, don’t you think? Well, whoever you are young man, you are here, and you have ears. So come sit with me for a while. I will tell you about my life.

Thirty-three years ago, I was working as a ticket collector at a train station in Chandpole. My parents were poor, but I was supremely beautiful, and they had arranged for me to marry a sweet shop owner living in New Delhi. My mother had sent my photograph to her matchmaker friend who then showed the photo to the man who was to be my husband. He was from very rich family, and they had picked me out of all the girls in the matchmaker’s photo album. The week before my wedding, I would walk to work with a big smile because I was so excited to meet my prince and live in a big city. I was lucky, my fiancée was not too ugly, and not too old either. And because he was well to do, I would not have to work, I would not have to sit inside this hot and stuffy ticketing booth all day. I would have my own maid and cook, I would be able to eat all the sweets I wanted, and maybe go to the cinema on weekends.

On the evening before I was to leave for New Delhi, I was collecting my things in the booth and about to head home, when I heard the sound of children shouting. I stepped out and noticed three figures running along the train track. I walked towards them, and saw that they were three young boys who appeared to be looking at something in the middle of the track. “Get up here now!” I shouted. The three shadows seemed stuck at one spot. Then I realised they were calling for help. I walked closer, and saw that that two of the boys were grabbing at the arms of their friend who was on the ground. I thought perhaps they were taunting him. “Stop that,” I yelled.

I stepped off the edge of the platform and down onto the track to get a better look. As I walked closer, I noticed that the boy on the ground, the smallest of the three, had his left foot trapped under a steel sleeper. It was bleeding, and his friends were trying to pull him up to safety. I could hear the sound of a train at a distance, and had to decide quickly what to do next. The two boys jumped up onto the platform, and ran out of the station to get help. The chug of the locomotive was getting louder. I still had time to get off the track, but then the beams from the train’s approaching headlight shone upon the small figure on the ground. I could now clearly see the shape and face of the child. He was crying out to me, but his voice was muffled by the sound of the train’s whistle. His eyes locked onto mine.

In a split second, I saw this boy’s father and mother waiting anxiously for him at home. I saw the boy in a schoolroom, raising his hand to the teacher’s questions, I could see that he was a clever boy who would grow up to become a surgeon and save lives. I saw a hungry beggar that this boy had shared his lunch with earlier in the day. I wanted to run, to scramble up to safety as fast as I could, but all these things were revealed to me through his eyes as they pleaded with me not to go, to help him. I felt as it I were under some sort of spell. I could not move. The last thing I remember from that night was the boy looking down at me from the platform, straining as he pulled me up, then the light from the train, so big and white. When I awoke in the hospital emergency room, I was wrapped in gauze bandages, and I wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Sharma lowered his body and sat down on the edge of the stage, with his feet swinging gentle above the auditorium floor. “Needless to say, she did not marry the man in Delhi,” he said. He sat silently like this for a few seconds. “Now, which version of that woman’s story is the truth?” he asked the crowd.

The people in the audience, now all fired up, shouted out their favourite. “The last one!” “The one where her family gets killed!” Each had a different response.

“I would believe the one I liked the best. However, what I like changes from year to year and day to day,” said Sharma. “The narrative is a strange beast,” he continued. “All three stories have as good a chance of being true as they do of being false. As long as I am Mohan Sharma and not the old woman, I will never know which was the truest of her three tales. That is something she takes to the grave with her. The funny thing is, I believed her all three times, because I felt something like magic in each telling. This is the power of fiction. It allows you, the listener, to hear and see whatever you want, and what actually happened is anyone’s guess. Fiction works because the place where truth resides is not within the frameworks of life, not within the things we can see, smell or touch, not even from where we come from, or what we know about our world, but within a mysterious little seed in our individual minds. The task of a storyteller is to learn how to dig out that seed, and stare it down till the wily thing cracks open and blossoms.”

Sharma then went on to explain the different avenues that a storyteller might look to for ideas. When he ended his lecture, he thanked the audience for their time, and reminded them to always keep their eyes and minds open, so they would see their muse when he or she showed up.

After everyone had left the auditorium, Marcus went up to Sharma and asked him if he had time for a quick chat. He said he’d be glad to speak with Marcus, and suggested they adjourn to the Prince of Wales pub across the road for some supper. Sharma ordered some fish fingers and two pints of ale. He took off his hat and placed it on the table.

“So, Marcus, right? What did you think of the story I shared?” he asked as he took out a packet of tobacco and began rolling himself a cigarette.

“I enjoyed it very much. Is the old woman still alive?” Marcus asked.

Sharma held Marcus’ gaze, and his lips curled into a mischievous smile. “Son, I was born in England, and have lived here all my life. I’ve never even been to Jaipur, or anywhere in India, not once. In fact, I’ve never even travelled outside of the U.K. I never did meet that woman, not in person at least,” he chuckled. He rubbed his beard, considering whether or not to disclose more. “On my way to The Muse,” said Sharma, “when I was waiting for the train at Hendon Station, I saw a drunk man with a crutch, no shoes, an eye patch, and a bloody nose sitting by a rubbish bin near the escalators. ‘Got ‘ne spare change, sir?’ he was moaning to everyone and no one. People were rushing off to wherever they were going, as they do, and nobody took much notice of him. I watched this man from a distance and noticed he was becoming increasingly agitated by the indifference of those around him. He threw his cane, scaring pedestrians, then flung himself on the ground, laying prostrate and obstructing commuters. ‘Listen to me! Please, will someone listen to me? For god’s sake… someone please, just listen to me!’

“As I sat on the train on my way here, I started thinking about what turn of events might have brought that poor man to such a sorry state, and that’s when the old lady in India showed up. The rest is, well, just an active imagination I suppose,” Sharma winked. “Cheers, Marcus. To making things up.” He tipped his glass.

Marcus graduated from City University and returned to Singapore, where he taught English at the National University of Singapore. He eventually had two novels and three short story collections published, none of which received much public attention, but these days that didn’t matter all that much to him. Marcus kept in touch with Sharma, who ended up becoming a good friend and mentor to him for the remainder of his time in London. They stayed in touch with regular emails through the years, filling each other in on the mundane encounters and occurrences of their lives. Through the lenses of their lively minds, simple, daily observations became captivating vignettes full of colour and humour.

A few weeks passed without an email from Sharma, then one afternoon, Marcus saw a message from Sharma’s sister in his inbox. She had written to let Sharma’s friends know that her brother had a stroke and passed away a few days ago.

Mohan Sharma was 66 years old when he died. He lived alone. He had taught fiction at Middlesex University, then worked as an editor for a small local newspaper. He had one short story published in a Middlesex literary magazine, but he never wrote a book, or received any literary accolades.

Marcus caught the earliest flight out from Singapore to London. When he landed, he took the train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, then boarded another train to Hendon Station in Middlesex, where Sharma’s funeral took place at Mount Auburn cemetery.

After the burial, everyone adjourned for drinks and sandwiches at Sharma’s sister’s home. Marcus was glad to see that the house was packed, that Sharma had so many friends. As he stood by the makeshift bar waiting for the server from the catering company to fix him a Tom Collins, he saw a dark haired man with a limp and an eye patch walking towards the bar. The man, who looked like he was in his forties or fifties, asked the server for an orange juice. Marcus stared at him a little longer than was polite. The man noticed Marcus looking at him, so he smiled and extended his hand.

“Hi, I’m Rory,” he said with a Scottish brogue. Marcus shook the man’s hand and introduced himself. They talked about Sharma, and Marcus asked Rory how he had come to know their mutual friend.

“I was livin’ rough at the time, under a bridge near Hendon Station. Licked by the whisky I was then, got me self into all kinds a scrapes. Found me-self asking for handouts, something I thought I’d be too proud to ever do. One day, I was beggin’ at the station. I hadn’t eaten anythin’ but crisps for days, but all I wanted was a drop a whisky, I was ready to jump off a bloody bridge at the time, I was. That was when I met Sharma. He told me he wouldn’t give me money, but he’d buy me a whisky, which was all I wanted back then. But he said I’d get me whisky only under one condition, that I sit with him at the bar while I drank it,” Rory was shaking his head, smiling wistfully, and Marcus could not picture this smartly-dressed, clear-eyed gentleman as a drunk beggar.

“So I agreed, and had my drink sittin’ next to our friend. I was feeling all antsy and what not, but when you’re as desperate for a tipple as I was, you’d chop off your right arm if that’s what it took. Our friend asked me where I came from. At first I thought ‘what’s this fella on about? It’s none of his bloody business’, but I started yapping anyway, and before I knew it, I was telling Sharma all about me life, me ma and stepdad, the girl who left me, me son who won’t speak to me, all the lost jobs, me broken mind, every thin’. I felt like I could trust him, y’know. Sharma came by the station the next day, and the day after, and we’d sit at the bar round the corner. He’d always buy me a whisky, but only one glass, sneaky bugger. One afternoon, as I talked and he listened, I noticed me story was changing. Not the things that actually happened, but slowly, the events of me past, which troubled me, seemed less violent, less shameful, less sad. Some of the most horrible things began to feel less heavy y’know, even a wee bit funny. After a few weeks of sitting with Sharma and me glass of whiskey, one afternoon, I decided I’d drink a coffee instead.”

Marcus thought about the old woman outside the temple, and smiled. “I think he may have mentioned you to me once,” he said to Rory.

“Really? I hope he didn’t say anything too embarassin’ I was a right manky bampot I was then,” Rory laughed.

When the server placed their drinks on the bar counter, Rory raised his glass of juice, clinking it against the rim of Marcus’ Tom Collins in a toast. “Been years since I’ve had a drink. No need for that madness now, life’s good, thanks to our mutual friend. He was a good man, he was. To Sharma,” said Rory. “It’s amazin’ what can happen when someone takes a little time to listen. Like really listen, y’know what I mean?”

“Yes. I do,” said Marcus.

Copyright® Michele Koh Morollo 2010

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