Ivan or the man he thought was Ivan

by Shayne Ciarlo McGreal

1

The subway jolted as it approached the next stop, causing Jake to slowly awaken. Between the flickering of his eyelids, Jake noticed a guitar case leaning against the glass divide near one of the subway doors, about fifteen feet from where he had dozed off.

The subway reached the station and Jake, now more alert, continued looking at the guitar case by the door. The doors opened and in the brief moment after the crowd of people left the train, and before the new crowd came on, Jake saw a man standing next to the case, his back to Jake, wearing a brown corduroy blazer. Jake remembered his lifelong best friend Ivan wore a similar coat often in college. Jake will say Ivan is his best friend, even though they hardly speak anymore. He’ll say things like: “we don’t talk much anymore, but he’ll always be my brother.”

The new crowd of passengers surrounded the man and blocked Jake’s view of him. When Jake stood up to walk over to the man to see if it was Ivan, the crowd from the other door near Jake blocked his way. They settled into their phones and their screens and their conversation, seemingly oblivious to Jake, making Jake tap each one of them on the shoulder and asking them to move.

By the time Jake came somewhat close to where the man was standing, the subway had stopped and the doors had opened. The man he thought was Ivan stepped off the train, stopped on the platform, and placed the guitar case on the ground as he did up his jacket. Jake noticed the guitar case had the same blue ribbon wrapped around the handle as Ivan’s did. Jake looked at the man’s face and saw his best friend Ivan’s most distinctive facial quality: a cleft palate. He now knew it was Ivan. It had to be him. Ivan grabbed the handle to the guitar case, picked it up, and began walking. Of course, all this happened within a few seconds, and within these few seconds Jake had to decide if he was to get off and talk to his lifelong best friend, or call his name, or do nothing at all. 

“Ivan!” Jake yelled.

Ivan turned around and looked directly at Jake. Both Jake and Ivan said nothing. The doors closed and the train began to leave. Jake kept his eyes on the man he thought was Ivan until he could no longer see Ivan, losing him because of the movement of the train, because of the subway platform wall, because of the dark tunnel, blackening the outside.

2

Jake gripped the handle which hung from the ceiling, thinking, trying to understand if that was in fact Ivan, and if it was Ivan why didn’t he say hello to Jake? Why would his lifelong best friend, a person he always considered to be his brother even though they’ve barely spoken in the last 5 years, not say hello to him? Surely it wasn’t Ivan. Amid all this the next stop arrived. Jake realized this because people needed to get by and Jake was in their way. After mumbling half-hearted apologies to the people leaving, Jake made a quick decision and hopped off the subway. Jake was supposed to be going West. He crossed to the other side of the platform and hopped on the Eastbound train. After all, nobody was waiting for him at home, and he had just finished work so he had nothing pressing to do. As Jake stood on the subway going East toward the man he thought was Ivan, he kept hearing in his mind how foolish he was to think Ivan, if it was Ivan, would still be at the subway platform. And even if he was there why would he talk to him now if he had just blatantly ignored him a moment ago? It had been many years since they last spoke, an incident Jake has somewhat put out of his mind until now, and even now he’s reluctant to think about it. The subway voice recording said, “arriving at Christie station, Christie station.” Jake felt a tremendous fear come over him, causing his feet to cramp and sweat.

As the train slowed Jake looked out the window, hoping to see the man. But the man was not there. Jake noticed someone who worked for the Toronto transportation, and approached her.

“Did you see a guy carrying a guitar case get off here about 5 minutes ago?” he asked.

The woman didn’t answer right away. And then: 

“I think I remember him. Why?”

“Did you see which way he went?”

The woman was silent. 

“We were supposed to meet up but I missed the stop,” Jake said.

“I think I saw him go up over there.”

The woman pointed to the stairs to the left of Jake.

“Thank you,” Jake said as he rushed up the stairs, doing his best to skip past the fresh crowd coming off the train opposite the side Jake just came from. 

When he arrived at the top he scanned the area. It was during rush hour and so there were many, many people, walking hurriedly. Jake did his best to look for a guitar case, or a man in a brown corduroy jacket, or a man with a cleft palate. But nothing.

He briefly considered phoning him but he wasn’t even sure if Ivan had the same number. 

Someone bumped into him, taking him away from his search. Annoyed, he stared down the person and then, in the corner of his eye, Ivan appeared, coming out of the washroom. The man started walking out of the station. Instead of calling after him this time, Jake followed him.

Ivan stood to the right side of the subway station building smoking a cigarette. When Jake arrived at the top of the steps he noticed Ivan and so he went to the left side of the building. Jake looked out onto the street and the passing cars, but really his focus was on Ivan’s every move.

Jake quickly smelt Ivan’s cologne. The idea that Jake could smell Ivan from such a distance seemed unrealistic, but still, he felt it. He felt it crawl up his nostrils, float under his skin. It went in him. The scent: a dash of Armani cologne combined with the family’s incense they always had burning. And then, staying with the scent Jake would see the red tile in the basement, the exposed brick walls and an archway leading to the other room where he and Ivan would watch basketball, or a movie, or MuchMusic. No Doubt Intimate and Interactive was taped on VHS there. Still, the tape lives in Jake’s parent’s basement. He thinks. He hopes. 

Ivan usually sprayed cologne moments before they would go out the front door, his mother always saying goodbye and telling them to be careful. Since they were 5 they were close. Since the moment the two of them sat on the floor in Grade.1 as Miss Memme read a story to the class. Jake and Ivan were near the back of the group, resting against the legs from the desks that were pushed aside during story time. Next thing Jake remembers is the two of them comparing the leg hair they had. This is a memory Jake always came back to. It was the beginning of their friendship. He wished he could remember more but the moment came to him from time to time, mostly unwanted, unannounced, and sometimes sticking with him long after the glimpse, the dreamlike image and sound hit him. And since then they’ve been best friends. 

Except that’s not true. 

Ivan liked to drink. Jake did not. Ivan liked to party. Jake did not. Ivan liked to take drugs. Jake did not. Ivan liked to sleep around with multiple women. Jake did not. And so, what brought them together? Jake couldn’t say. Basketball? Love of music? 

What drove them apart? Jake didn’t want to say.

When Ivan began walking toward where Jake was standing, Jake moved farther to the left to hide his face. Ivan, or the man he thought was Ivan, but let’s be honest it was Ivan, walked by him. 

Ivan made a right on Bedford Road. Jake followed.

Ivan stopped to send a text. Again, Jake considered trying to call or text him. But he didn’t.

Jake sat down on a bench which faced Ivan, but was behind a small tree. The situation was splitting Jake’s stomach.

Ivan walked up the steps to the bar. Jake walked to where Ivan had stood, contemplated if he should go into the bar, but decided to return to the bench and wait for the right moment to go inside and confront Ivan.

Jake watched the entrance to the bar. The night was getting cooler. The action inside his stomach was becoming unbearable and Jake was desperate to puke it up. 

Jake jumped up, crossed the street, and walked up the steps to the bar. Although the insides of his stomach were about to rise, Jake, being focussed on Ivan, managed to hold it down.

He saw Ivan, or the man he thought was Ivan, sitting at the bar. Ivan was hunched over his beer with his guitar case next to him leaning against the bar. Jake went to sit down at an empty table in the corner, telling the waiter along the way he would like a beer.

After a few minutes sitting at the table Jake stood up and walked toward Ivan. With each step sparks went off in the arches of Jake’s feet. The moment Jake put his hand on the empty chair near Ivan, or the man he thought was Ivan, Jake turned and rushed down the steps to the washroom, stiff arming people along the way, falling into the toilet and puking. 

For a few minutes Jake stayed hovered over the toilet, catching his breath, and ridding himself of any remaining bits in his stomach. Soon, the door opened and someone came in.

“Are you alright buddy?”

Again he puked.

“Something you ate?”

“Yup.”

Jakes flushed the toilet and slowly came to his feet. He stood there briefly, looking through the crack of the stall door and at the concerned citizen taking a piss. The concerned citizen flushed and Jake tried to see his face, but couldn’t. The man left. Jake opened the stall door and noticed the brown corduroy jacket Ivan was wearing. Jake quickly realized it was Ivan in the washroom. But why did Jake not recognize his voice?

Jake hurried to the sink, cupped water into his hands, drank and spit. By the time he reached the door Ivan was at the top of the steps. Still weak from puking, Jake used the handrail for support as he tried to catch up with Ivan.

After opening the door he looked toward the bar where Ivan was sitting. He was still there.

Jake walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Why are you avoiding me?” Jake said.

“I’m sorry?” the man said.

“It’s me, Jake.”

“Do I know you?”

“Ivan, come on brother.”

“Who’s Ivan?”

“You.”

“Sorry friend. I’m not Ivan.”

“OK then what’s your name?”

“Steve.”

“Steve what?”

“Steve Campbell.”

Jake stopped questioning the man and looked closely at his face. Who else would have the same cleft palate, have the same brown corduroy jacket, have the same blue ribbon on a guitar case?

Jake apologized and went back to his table in the corner.

The man he thought was Ivan never looked at Jake, only hovered over his drink. Jake looked at his phone and the pictures he had saved of them playing basketball in Ivan’s backyard. Ivan’s hair was recently bleached, prominent as he poses for the photo, wearing his blue shirt with the sleeves cut off. In the photo Jake is reminded of a mole Ivan has on his right bicep. Jake looked at present day Ivan or the man he thought was Ivan and realized his bicep was covered because of the jacket.

Jake searched for Ivan online, but found nothing. Ivan had deleted Jake from any social media following their incident.

Ivan finished his beer and stood up to pay. Jake jumped up and walked over to him.

“Are you leaving?” Jake asked.

The man looked at Jake and smirked, half rolled his eyes.

“Hope you find your friend.”

He walked out. Jake followed him.

The man stopped, placed his guitar case on the ground, lit a cigarette and then noticed Jake following him.

“Can you please fuck off?” he said.

Jake rushed at him, grabbing him by the jacket, and pushing him against the front window of the bar.

“Let me see your right arm,” Jake said.

He pushed Jake and freed himself.

“Fuck off.”

“Just let me see your right arm and I will leave you alone.”

He held out his right arm.

“Without the jacket,” Jake said.

“Fuck off.”

The man began to walk away.

Jake followed him.

“Let me see your right arm,” Jake called after him.

“Fuck off” he said again, without turning around.

Jake caught up and lunged at him, trying to jersey him. They wrestled. The man swung and connected to Jake’s cheekbone. Jake swung back but missed. Jake finally managed to pull Ivan’s jacket off, throwing the man’s wallet to the ground. They both looked at it. The man grabbed Jake. But Jake got free and picked it up.

“I just want to look at your ID,” Jake said.

Jake found his driver licence. It said, Steve Campbell.

“See?” he said.

Steve Campbell pushed Jake and Jake fell backwards dropping the wallet along the way. Steve Campbell picked up the wallet, his guitar case, and left.

Jake stood up and then sat down on the bench nearby. He looked toward Ivan or the man he thought was Ivan but is now told is Steve Campbell. He watched him walk. He watched him leave. He wished Steve Campbell would come back. He wished he could apologize for his behaviour, buy the guy a drink, perhaps watch a game on TV, maybe talk about music. But he doesn’t. He just walked down the street and away. And then, soon enough, Steve Campbell turned the corner and was gone.

“I’m an asshole,” Jake said to himself.

He leaned back on the bench and looked up. The sky was dark. There were no stars. Most of what he saw was clouded by the awning which hung over the bar.

Jake stood up and wandered in the direction of Ivan, or Steve Campbell, or whoever that man was.

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