© Brian Wright
Lodwig was always the leader at school, with me trailing in his shadow. He was hermetically self–contained even then, needing nothing from me or anyone else. So I expected never to see him again after his expulsion for a string of offences, the last of which was to strike a teacher. We ran into each other twice more after that, in fact, and each time the course of my life changed for the better.
Now I dread a third meeting.
I soon followed his youthful example, seeking to emulate his exploits, with acolytes of my own to impress. Finally, I pushed the same teacher to the floor and joined my erstwhile friend on the school's roll of dishonour. The whole episode was a pointer to the future.
I settled down after that period of schoolboy rebellion, finding myself a steady job in the Civil Service and a girlfriend. Though I struggle to remember her name now, I suppose I was contented enough with her and with things in general.
Until Lodwig came back into my life.
I immediately recognised the figure striding towards me one rainy November day, as I scurried from my office on the lunchtime sandwich run. He was brown and confident–looking and told me in a few laconic words that he'd just returned from backpacking around Asia .
I pressed him to join me in a pub and for the next couple of hours, while my workmates went hungry, he entertained and enthralled me with his stories of strange places and even stranger people. All the old triggers activated in my brain as I listened to him: admiration and envy and intense feelings of hero worship. We parted with mutual declarations of friendship, genuine on my part at least, and promised to meet in the same pub the next evening. He never showed up. Yet nothing else stood a chance after that. I felt I had no choice but to see the same places, do the same things, to follow literally in his footsteps.
I became obsessed with travel maps and timetables and spent hours locked away in my bedroom, planning the best way to get from Sumatra to the Northern Territory of Australia while my girlfriend sulked in front of the TV. She finally gave me an ultimatum: settle down with her and forget my stupid ideas – or else. The next week I was on a cross–channel ferry with all my worldly goods strapped to my back.
I went everywhere that Lodwig said he'd been: the bazaars of Istanbul and the fetid alleyways of Calcutta , sweltering in third class on the long train journey down the spine of the Malay Peninsula , gaping at the upswept wings of the Sydney Opera House. I joined an ashram in Pune for food and lodging and washed dishes in Perth , but never stayed anywhere for long. In the end, almost punch–drunk with my experiences and feeling that I had done at least as much as my mentor, I wrote to my parents asking for the money to get home.
Having traversed the world from Rome to Rotorua and stirred a minimum of feminine interest, except of the fee–demanding variety, it seemed like fate when I met Julianne on the last leg of the journey.
It wasn't the most romantic of meetings, sharing a sick bag in a force 6 gale in the English Channel , but we arranged to see each other afterwards, and unlike Lodwig, she kept her promise. We made love the same night and were married six months later.
Although we were – still are – extremely happy together, it was hard settling back into a routine; and it didn't help that Julianne soon found a permanent secretarial post while I had to be content with a series of ill–paid bar jobs. I began to think that my future lay entirely in cleaning sick from lavatory walls.
Then I met Lodwig again.
He came into the Cheapside pub where I was providing temporary cover, looking fit and bronzed – every time I saw him it seemed as if he'd just walked off a tropical beach – and accompanied by a group of noisy friends. To judge from the expensive clothes and the fancy cocktails everyone was drinking, his travelling days were long gone, unless the journey involved business class air fares and five star hotels.
He didn't pause for breath on seeing me, picking up the conversation as if our last meeting had been a matter of weeks rather than years. To my disappointment he showed no interest in exchanging reminiscences about Bali , but instead talked happily about the money he made as a futures trader. I was flattered that he stayed behind after his friends went on somewhere else. When he eventually made his excuses to leave, however, there wasn't even any pretence of wanting to see me again. As he went off without a backward glance, it felt strangely as if something of me was going with him.
Once again, though, I was snapped out of my lethargy, felt compelled to do something about my life. By an odd coincidence – and I remember wondering at the time if they really were chance, my encounters with Lodwig – Julianne heard from an acquaintance that a firm of City brokers were taking on staff. It was a company that Lodwig had recently left, where he claimed to have made vast profits for the directors and shareholders. I wrote for an interview, giving his name as a reference, and not long afterwards they offered me a junior position for a probationary period.
Now I'm a partner in the same company. We live with our two small children in a town house in South Kensington . I drive a brand–new Mercedes and Julianne has her distinctive blood–red Porsche. She's still the love of my life. As I said, we're very happy.
And yet I can't shake off the feeling that Lodwig is lurking around the corner.
Surprisingly, given the fact that the City is a village, albeit a large one, I had no contact of any kind with him after I went to work there. For a time I longed to bump into him on one of the black–tie occasions so beloved of the stockbroking community – to tell him of the skiiing holiday in Vail and how my eldest boy has been put down for one of the best preparatory schools in London . In the hope they weren't things he had already done.
More than anything, I wanted to take back the missing part of myself. To look him in the face as an equal at last, no longer a follower.
Somehow our paths never crossed. But there were frequent references to him in the broadsheet newspapers and financial websites – usually to confirm he was moving ever upwards on the business totem pole. He even made a couple of television appearances as a City spokesperson. I wasn't happy after that until I had my say about the economy on the BBC breakfast news.
Once, I thought I saw him crossing the street and hurried to catch up, only to lose him as the midday crowd was disgorged from the Bank of England. Now I would run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.
I don't ever want to meet Lodwig again.
Actually, there's small chance of that happening him at the moment, not unless he escapes from prison. He's been behind bars for almost four years now, ever since his conviction for murdering his wife. It was a love match apparently, until he found out she was cheating on him. Then he stabbed her through the heart with a kitchen knife.
His last media appearances were the reports of the trial, Lodwig being sentenced to seven years, a light punishment even when taking into account the provocation offered by his wife's behaviour and his defence that her death had simply been a tragic accident. Perhaps the judge owed him a favour. Nothing about Lodwig would surprise me.
He's taking up more of my thoughts as his release date draws nearer. With time off for good behaviour, that can't be far away. Recent events have sharpened my musings, given them focus, and against my will I occasionally catch myself wondering what he would do in my position. And that really frightens me. Because I can't risk being influenced by him again, knowing that nowadays there's only one thing in my life I'd like to change. Ever since the night I saw Julianne's Porsche parked outside my best friend's house and the suspicion first formed that she's being unfaithful to me.
Because even now, rich and successful as I am, the sensation persists that part of me of me is still owned by Lodwig, the same part he's always owned, ever since I was a fresh–faced schoolkid shadowing him, wanting to be like him.
Wanting to be him.
The other night I dreamed that Julianne was dead, blood everywhere and a knife in my hand, and woke in a panic. For a moment it felt as if Lodwig was in the room with us. The love of my life. My worst nightmare. No, I can't risk it.
At least we have enough money to start a new life, somewhere suitably distant. Australia might be the answer, and I've suggested we make a permanent move there, doing something completely different, perhaps running a nice family hotel away from the fleshpots of Sydney . In spite of coming from that part of the world, Julianne is less than keen on the idea – I hope it's not for the reason I'm thinking. But I have to convince her. I sense my life depends on it. And hers.
In my blackest moments, I wonder if I'll ever escape from Lodwig, whatever I do, wherever I go. That even in Australia he'll walk in off the street one day, as if by accident, and ask for a room, exchanging pleasantries, wryly reminiscing about his time in jail, before just as casually going on his way.
Leaving my nightmare to begin for real.
Brian Wright lives in the United Kingdom. He has retired from the world of work and spends his days trying to come up with short stories. Somehow he has managed to get one or two of them into print.