This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1300 words.
The worst thing about it, was that he could understand.
It wasn’t his fault that he had lost most of his hair before he was twenty-five.
It wasn’t his fault that he had a long neck, and disproportionately longer arms.
It wasn’t his fault that his head was very small, yet his eyes were unusually large.
It wasn’t his fault that his nose was also too big, and hooked in shape.
And it certainly wasn’t his fault that his parents had given him the name Sebastian.
Ever since he was old enough to understand, he had been called ‘The Vulture’. When he first saw one on TV, he immediately understood the connection. It unsettled him, because he saw it too. When the boys in the playground had teased him, he had been perplexed. Once he had seen the bird in action, he fully appreciated the similarity.
All through secondary school, and on to university, the mockery carried on. By the time he was seventeen, he had heard every joke, seen every imitation. As his hair thinned at a young age, there seemed to be even more justification for their jibes. His only consolation was to immerse himself in study. Contract Law was hardly anything to get excited about, but he had an aptitude for it, enjoying the fine detail. From an academic standpoint at least, he could do no wrong. The best results ever seen, his tutor told him, not suppressing his pride. Sebastian had a great future, at least as far as his career was concerned.
For most of those years at his university, he was devoid of company. Not just female company, male company too. The girls who liked him didn’t like him ‘in that way’, it seemed. The men who enjoyed his company were few, and mostly seeking help with their studies. Sebastian was under no illusion. His appearance was to be his downfall, at least as far as relationships and friendship were concerned. Leaving university with one of the best degrees they had ever seen, he should have been proud and puffed with his achievements. But even during the graduation ceremony, other students were standing behind him, stretching their necks, and flapping their arms. He didn’t turn to look, as he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of discovery.
Work gave him some release. His expertise and serious demeanour saw him rise to become one of the most successful negotiators in the city. He had an excellent salary, and was in demand. However, the jokes continued, and though more subtle, were no less painful. During one very stressful meeting, one of the managers referred to Sebastian ‘picking over the bones’ of a contract. Some of those present started to chuckle, and not long after that three normally responsible and serious adult men had to leave the room, lest they collapse in fits of laughter at this comment. But Sebastian had heard it all before. He kept his dignity, and refused to let them get to him.
Back at his house, things were different. Once there, he could allow himself some self-pity. He felt the loneliness of his life wrap around him like a heavy cloak. No amount of luxury fittings, or state-of-the-art tech gadgets could compensate for the hollow feeling inside. Approaching his thirtieth birthday, he had never know the love of a woman. He had never even kissed one, or felt their arms around him. There were many attractive women at work of course. His own secretary, Mrs Phillips, for one. Young and vivacious, divorced already, he tried not to glance at her short skirt as she brought the paperwork through. At times, he thought about paying for a woman. He could afford the best after all, and professionals would show no disgust at his unusual physical features, surely? He imagined arriving at a company function, the beautiful escort on his arm. She would be attentive and flattering, affectionate and flirtatious. He would pay extra for that, just to show them.
But he lost his nerve. He never made that call.
Six years later, and Mrs Phillips was now Mrs Henderson; married to the department head, one under Sebastian. Henderson was older than him, and very fat. Perhaps he should have tried his luck after all. He had a new secretary, Molly, a much older and kinder lady. He had chosen her himself, avoiding applicants who were young and sexy. The recent promotion had boosted his earnings, and other companies were seeking him out, the headhunters offering him lunches to discuss benefit packages. He remained at the same firm though. He was comfortable in a place that he knew. He stayed later and later at work too. The bosses thought this was dedication, but Sebastian knew the truth. He just didn’t want to go home. To face another evening of emptiness, surrounded by the trappings that seemed meaningless.
And then Anne came along.
Molly had been the one to suggest online dating. Her son had recently met a lovely woman on a dating website, she told Sebastian. She sent him an email with the link, assuring him that it was one of the better sites, and the members were all vetted. His first concern was his profile photo. What to do? He could use a photo from his younger days, when he still had hair. That might improve his chances, but then he would have to face the meeting, the judgement of his date, and her realisation that it was an old picture. Molly took a photo on his smartphone. He was wearing his best suit, and sitting back, to reduce the effect of his long neck. “Lots of men shave their hair these days Sebastian”, Molly said. “Many girls think that it looks sexy.” He wasn’t convinced, but sent off the photo along with his profile details.
In less than a day, Anne had replied. She liked the look of him, apparently. Not only that, she also worked in Law, and in the same city too. The first date went better than he could ever have expected. Only two years younger, Anne had many similar tastes, and chatted easily in his company. That first date was soon followed by a second, then a third. Anne suggested a weekend away, a trip to Paris. Sebastian felt that he had no option but to confess his lack of experience. She was unconcerned, and even said that made her like him and trust him more. After that, life had never been better. Anne often stayed over, marvelling at his luxurious apartment, and all his beautiful things.
Three months later, and he plucked up the courage to propose, brandishing a tremendously expensive diamond ring. Not only did she say yes, she cried too. Then so did he. Tears of happiness, for the first time in his life.
Checking his watch, Sebastian could see it was almost six. He started to pack away his things into the briefcase. He didn’t work late anymore, and if he was lucky with the bus, he would be home well before seven. He might even take a taxi. He could afford it. Going home to Anne had changed his life. Wonderful evenings listening to music, enjoying each others company. Then off to bed, and the delights of their mutual attraction. He didn’t even notice the jokes or jibes anymore, though he was sure that they still went on.
Closing the door, he switched on the main light. Anne was working from home that day, and he could hear her talking on the telephone in the study. When she heard him approach, she finished the call, and turned to smile at her husband as he stood in the hallway. Getting up from the chair, she moved quickly over to him, reaching her face up to his for a welcome home kiss.
Anne could find her way around the large apartment easily, especially as it was on one level.
She only ever used her white cane when she went out.