For part 1 of this post, see Gammon. Or go to Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.
The following post is a fictionalization of the story about how I created a character and then became him in order to make him as believable as possible for my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. The following recount is based on actual events, though some of the details have been altered to protect identities. Most of the dialog is almost word for word.
SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING POST DESCRIBES MUCH OF MY NOVEL AND REVEALS SOME SUSPENSEFUL ASPECTS OF THE STORY. IF THAT'S COOL WITH YOU, READ ON. IF YOU ARE READING MY BOOK OR ARE PLANNING TO AND YOU LIKE SURPRISES, COME BACK TOMORROW.
At some point, one becomes invested in people. We have casual acquaintances who, over time, become friends. Over time, we learn about their lives: their interests, their professions; their families, friends, and loved ones.
As your lives become entwined, so to speak, you begin to care about these friends. You share in their joys and sorrows. You support them.
You trust them.
In the years that I went to this downtown pub, assuming the identity of Roland Axam (and it was an identity at this point: Roland had a history and was living in the present, sharing his views on current events), I became emotionally invested in the regulars. They were more than mere people who had to buy into Roland's story, to believe that the person I said I was was real; they were my friends, my drinking buddies.
After several years of establishing this relationship, it became impossible for me to sever the connection between Roland and the other pub regulars. For me, I had only two choices: continue to frequent the pub as Roland or stop going altogether, without so much as a goodbye.
The latter would have been a challenge, but not impossible. I would simply avoid that area of the Byward Market (not too hard to do). There was little chance of running into the group by chance elsewhere: I lived in another part of town from all of them. From what I learned of them, they never went to my area of the city, never shopped where I shopped. Any possibility of meeting by chance was so extremely small that I would wager it impossible.
Although, there was that one time...
Once, when I was at Big Daddy's Crab Shack on Elgin Street, meeting my old journalism-school buddies, just as I was walking toward the table where my friend, Michel, was sitting, I heard a woman's voice call out to me: "Roland!"
I turned, and came face to face with Shannon, the first bartender at the pub. She was still working there at the time.
I was caught completely off-guard, my persona not prepared to be my fictional character. "Shannon," I said, meeting her friendly embrace, "how are you? It's been an age." The voice was not quite mine, not quite Roland's. Fortunately, she hadn't noticed.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
I gestured toward Michel, who was watching the exchange. "Meeting some friends." I was speaking softly, sounding like I had been walking fast. Little did anyone know that I was on the verge of hyperventilating.
"Shannon, this is Michel," I said, bringing her closer to my friend. "Michel, Shannon." They shook hands. I turned to Shannon: "What brings you here?" Roland's soft brogue was coming, but still needed work. I figured, let Michel ask me what was wrong with my voice. It would be easier to answer, later.
For now, he said nothing.
"Me too," she replied, pointing to a friend who was seated at the bar.
I could see my other friend, Becky, was outside, walking along the front of the restaurant, headed to the door. She was always the most inquisitive of my journalism friends, and I didn't want to start a conversation. At the risk of sounding abrupt, I said, "Well, it was good seeing you."
"You too. Don't be a stranger." And she was off, back to join her friend.
Michel gave me a pensive look, obviously wanting to know how I knew such a young, lovely woman. I shrugged off his look with a short answer, saying that she worked at the pub where my Toastmasters' club met for post-toasties. I didn't want to lie to my friend, but I didn't want to spill the beans, to tell him that Shannon didn't even know my real name.
That was my only close call, and I still felt confident that Ottawa was a big enough city that I wouldn't have that kind of encounter again.
My friends would never mix with Roland's friends.