When they got to the shopping centre, Gabriel pointed Thomas to a few suitable shops and said goodbye. Thomas walked up to one of the chosen shops and looked like a fish out of water. Deciding that his old pond was the best option, he headed for the conservative old man’s shop next door. He picked up one of the shirts on the rack. He couldn’t remember if he had one like it or not. All his clothes looked exactly the same, so it was hard to tell. Gabriel had been watching from a distance. Whether it was disgust or humanitarian aid, he walked over to Thomas and almost grabbed the shirt from his hand.
“It’s horrible,” said Gabriel.
He headed back to the store he originally suggested, expecting Thomas to follow. Gabriel had never been to Waldmeer Secondary School. He only knew his new acquaintance as Thomas, not as Mr MacArthur, and treated him accordingly. Thomas stood blankly for a moment and then obediently followed. He was used to being obeyed, not obeying.
Gabriel walked around the shop, with a bit of added drama for effect, picking out all sorts of clothes for Thomas.
“Try these,” said Gabriel handing Thomas the clothes. Thomas looked at them and hesitated.
“Look, I have other stuff to do,” said Gabriel. “Do you want help or not?” Then he added with a smile, “I think you need it.”
Thomas bought it all and they both walked out of the shop as if they had won a prize. “How can I repay you for your help?” asked Thomas.
Feeling that the exchange was not quite finished, Gabriel said, “Buy me a coffee.”
It was strange that they were so open to each other, being virtual strangers, but many things in life are strange. As if a barrier had already been broken, they started to talk about things that men don’t easily talk about to each other.
“I have decided that it is time to get a new lease of life,” said Thomas.
“I think I’ve had a bit too much of a lease of life,” said Gabriel.
“What do you mean?” said Thomas.
“I, sometimes, wonder if I am wasting my life. You have dedicated your life to people and your community. I wonder if I have spent too much of my life thinking about myself,” said Gabriel.
They seemed like opposites but, on the other hand, they were alike; good men, well adjusted, people oriented, natural leaders, kind hearted.
“I wish I had your sense of freedom and independence,” said Thomas. “It would have saved me from many mistakes.”
“What mistakes?” ventured Gabriel.
They had come this far, Thomas decided to be honest. “I have spent the last forty years of my life in service to others. I do not regret caring about people and I have gained many rewards for myself along the way. However, I have also made many choices based on fear. I wish I would have had your courage.”
“What sort of choices?”
“If I was braver, I would have left my marriage in the earlier years but I wasn’t and then the years go on and it becomes too difficult to change anything. The trouble with staying too long with someone you don’t want to be with is that you end up waiting for something to happen that will release you, even sickness or death. And then you feel bad that you could think like that but what other choice is there when one is a prisoner? You would never let yourself get in that situation.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” said Gabriel. “At least, you weren’t alone and lonely.”
“It was intensely lonely,” said Thomas.
“So is freedom.”
“But it’s brave.”
“Is it? I don’t know how brave it is. Maybe, it’s avoidance. That’s not brave.”
They both looked at each other a little lost and forlorn. Being the older, Thomas suddenly decided to change tracks.
“You know, Gabriel, I don’t think either of us has been wrong,” he said cheerfully. “In our own ways, we have tried to find happiness. Yet, I don’t think either of us is right either.”
The waiter took their empty cups and asked if they would like another coffee.
“No, I have to go,” said Gabriel still sitting there.
“I think there is a depth to life which only comes from our connection to other people,” said Thomas. “However, we have to find it without becoming a prisoner. And we have to believe that no matter what, we will be okay. That gives us courage. I hope it will give me courage, anyway.”
Gabriel got up and shook Thomas’s hand. “Enjoy your clothes and your journey.” He walked back into the busy shopping centre but, for some reason, he couldn’t remember what it was he had to buy that was so important a few hours ago.
From then on, Thomas never bought clothes without Gabriel. He would announce to his secretary that a certain day would be blocked out because he needed to see his stylist. He said the word stylist like no one else would know what it was because he didn’t previously know. His secretary would smile tolerantly. Thomas and Gabriel became unlikely friends who would help to style each other’s lives and thoughts.