For part 1 of this post, see Gammon. Or go to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.
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.
Roland made friends with all of the people at the pub: both the regular customers and with the staff. The folks who were employed at the pub probably felt compelled to talk to him, to be nice. After all, their livelihood depended on it. And Roland was a generous tipper. It wasn't uncommon for him to leave an extra twenty on the counter.
"You're not rich, are you, Roland?" Tanya once asked.
Roland gave a sheepish grin. This question had planted a seed that would be used in the story. Roland was, in fact, well off.
"I wouldn't say rich," Roland returned. "Before, when I had my whole family, my wife and daughter, and my dad with my mum and sis, I'd have said I was the richest man in the world. But from my loss, I've come into a fair deal of financial wealth. Ill-gotten gains, if you ask me."
It had already been established that Roland was doing all right. He had his parents' cottage that he lived in. His mother couldn't bring herself to staying alone out on Big Rideau Lake after the loss of her husband. Kate Axam lived in her modest home in Sandy Hill, though she was often back in Edinburgh, spending time with her daughter, Siobhan.
But when Roland came to Ottawa, he often either stayed with a friend who lived in the south end or, when he visited the pub later in the evenings, he'd check into the Westin.
I, of course, always went home. No one knew where I lived.
The regulars of the pubMichele, Paul, and Johnalso befriended Roland, were pleased when he walked through the door. They always asked him how he was and seemed genuinely interested in hearing what he had been up to. Roland would always have a story to tell or would share his opinion on current events. Conversations with these four regularsand Roland was now considered a regular (though, mostly at large)was always animated and engaging.
Roland had no favourite among the regulars. He enjoyed the company of all of them. Occasionally, only one regular would be sitting at the bar when he attended, and he would forego his regular seat to keep him or her company. It was in these one-on-one sessions that Roland would learn of the more intimate details of these people's lives. Where he would share his secrets.
Though it was through Shannon and Tanya that the regulars learned of Roland's tragedy, it was the regulars who fed other details of Roland's life.
Until Naomi came on the scene.
Roland's introduction to Naomi came abruptly. When he entered the pub on that crisp November afternoon in 2008, the pub was vacant. Roland took his usual spot and waited for whoever was behind the bar to come out from the back room. It had been more than a month since his last visit, knew that Tanya was gone. Whoever had taken her place may or may not know anything about him. For all Roland knew, the manager, Steve, might now be serving the drinks.
Within a couple of minutes of sitting in silence, Roland's loneliness was changed by a young woman emerging from the ladies' room. She was pretty, with sharp features, an attractive figure, and short, dark hair. She saw Roland, smiled, walked along the outer length of the bar, passed a half-filled glass of dark liquid with a straw in it, scooped it up and then sat herself next to the regular at the bar.
"Hi," she said, "mind if I sit next to you?"
Roland looked into this stranger's eyes and saw a confidence that unnerved him. Though he made friends readily, he was soft-spoken and reserved. "Sure," he said, not breaking the eye contact.
The woman sat and then proffered her hand. "I'm Naomi." Her grip on Roland's hand was firm.
"Roland," he said, his softened Scottish accent reciprocated.
"Have you been here before?" She asked.
"Off and on, over the years. You?"
"I started about six weeks ago." Then, as though she just remembered that she was supposed to be on the other side of the bar, just as Roland realized that she was the new bartender, Naomi hopped from the seat and declared, "You need a drink."
"A pint of Keith's, if you please." God, I hated that stuff. It would have been nice if the pub had some quality beer. But while I may be a beer snob, Roland was not. After all, he had survived Korea, drinking such atrocities as Hite, Cass, and OB Lager.
Actually, I did too, but that's another story.
With Roland's pint poured and delivered, Naomi came back around and once again sat next to Roland.
"Where are you from, Roland?"
"Originally, Scotland, but I live in cottage country, just past Smith Falls."
"I'm from Stanley Corners," she said.
Damn, I thought. I hoped that she didn't ask too many questions. I didn't know that area very well. I'd have to do some research so that I could talk to her about the region with some sort of confidence. Also, if Roland's family was going to die in that area, I would need to know the roads.
I would go to Google Earth later that evening.
Naomi and Roland hit it off right away. I liked her too: there was something about her. We chatted like we were old friends. She showed Roland a photo of her daughter. She told him about her boyfriend. She told him that she was looking to move from her apartment to a home, how she found a great place and hoped that she could afford it.
She wore her heart on her sleeve and she was openly willing to share her story with Roland. And Roland had a sympathetic ear and would let her talk. Over many visits to the pub. And, because of Naomi, Roland's appearance became more regular.
He made an appearance once a week.
Naomi had a boyfriend with a drug addiction; thankfully, her daughter was from a previous relationship. She wanted out of the current relationship, but every time she tried to end it, her boyfriend threatened to kill himself.
"You need to put your daughter first," Roland told her. "He's a grown man. He needs to grow up. He needs professional help."
Naomi lacked the strength and the time to deal with her boyfriend's problem. She bought that house and was raising her daughter. She needed to work extra hours to afford her new mortgage. As a result, she was always stressed at work.
Luckily, the regulars at the pub friended her immediately, had her back. Paul was a handyman and would perform needed work on Naomi's electrical and plumbing. He saved her thousands of dollars in maintenance. Michelle would offer to look after Naomi's daughter on occasion, allowing Naomi to periodically have a social life. Though, more times than not, when Naomi had a respite from her daughter, she'd put in more hours at the pub.
Or dealing with her boyfriend.
"You deserve better," Roland would say. "You have so much going for you: you're smart, you're beautiful, and you have a good heart. He doesn't deserve you."
"What about you?" Naomi said, "Isn't it time that you moved on, found someone special? Have you been in any relationship since the accident?"
"Not since Kristen," said Roland. That was his late wife.
"That's a long time," she said. And it was then that I did the math. It was 13 years. A long time for anyone to be alone. Roland would need a relationship in his story.
"Aye," Roland said. "But I'm now used to being on my own."
"It's time to move on, Roland."
Over the months, Roland and Naomi became good friends. Mostly, Roland was a sounding board for Naomi when she talked about her deteriorating relationship. He offered moral support. He even met her daughter on a couple of occasions. He would walk Naomi the few blocks to her daughter's day care when her shift ended.
When Naomi finally broke up with her boyfriend, Roland told her that anyone would be lucky to be with her.
"What about you?" she asked.
"You deserve better than me."
It was no secret that Naomi had developed feelings for Roland. And Roland also liked Naomi, but for obvious reasons he could not get involved. I could not get involved. So how could Roland stay friends with Naomi without getting involved?
Roland took a break from the pub. He went to Scotland to visit his family.
And when he returned, he had a girlfriend. Albeit, a fictional one.
The web was about to get even more tangled.
To be continued...