The Naming Lesson

by Brent Chisholm

The Naming Lesson

Brent Chisholm


Names have power. That's what my teachers always told us in school. Names have power. I am here to tell you that they truly do. Sometimes, they have too much.

Take the name Friday. I met the man named for that day of the week only a little while ago. Lovely man, as it were. He was an astute observer of the human condition without being cynical. I envied that about him. He also seemed a jovial man, quick with a joke and perhaps even quicker with compassion.

His name is what sticks with me though. It sums up the man in a way I only wish I could. His hair, for instance, was wild, yet restrained. He seemed to exude a childlike confidence that everything that most worry about would, in fact, end up okay.

He also exuded a sense of freedom which was heavily contagious.

He took me to bars and struck up conversations with people, no ulterior motives, he just listened and remarked where he could productively add to the conversation. We received a lot of free drinks.

The one turning point in my life was on his namesake night after having gone to more than a few bars and conversing with a great many patrons. I was quite sideways myself, but what happened on our way home sobered me to my bones.

An unfortunate citizen, as Friday was one to call the homeless, came stumbling out of an alley reeking of cheap booze (indiscernible to my nose) and tobacco. His gate seemed aimless until his gaze fell upon Friday and I, then there was more purpose that was leading him in our direction. Friday stopped in his tracks with widened eyes and strange body language that I could not properly interpret. I watched the derelict and saw a look of recognition.

"Son," said the vagrant.

"Dad" replied Friday.

It was my turn to become surprised.

They spoke to one another in hushed whispers. I stood routed to the spot where my gait had ceased and looked back and forth at the conversation as though I was watching a tennis match. Although they spoke in a language I could not make out, I could gather, from their tone and hand gestures, mostly what they were saying. Friday's father was worried about his son. Worried about exactly what I could not discern, though it should have been Friday to worry like that. His father looked old, almost ancient. Barely making the curb with his weathered feet(which were uncovered), he seemed devoid of form and only standing on the firmness of the bones underneath the skin. The was hardly muscle tone, as if he had aged so quickly that his body could not have kept up.

After a couple of minutes of heated debate and not a few laughs, the old man turned to me and greeted me a grievously.

I replied with my most energetic hello, well, it was the most I could muster at the time and under the circumstances.

"Young man, you and my son are friends, is this not true?"

"Yes, I would say that for my part, I am his friend. Why?"

The old man put a gnarled hand to his temple and looked vacantly down at the sidewalk for a moment, which turned to a couple of moments. Friday coughed and nudged his father to continue what he was going to say to me.

"Oh, sorry. How the mind wanders?"

"No problem. No problem at . . ."

"What may I ask is your name?"

I frowned, not knowing where this line of questioning was going.

"Why, it is Saturday. I was named for the day I was born."

The old man turned shades of gray, and looked from Friday to myself, his eyes tearing up and his lips trembling.

"He's your son." Said the old man in a hushed and frightened voice.

"You could not recognize him because you have lost touch with our ways." The old man continued to back up and tripped over the cobblestone curb, landing painfully in the street. He scampered back like a wounded animal and ran away. He stumbled once and lay there, struggling for breath. He reached out and said something that I couldn't make out and stopped breathing. Friday just looked at me.

"You know, maybe it is true. Maybe I have forgotten."

"What are you talking about? Who was that man? He couldn't have been your father! Shouldn't we call someone? Maybe he's gone missing or something."

Friday looked in the direction that the man had dropped and rubbed beneath his lip, as he did when in deep thought.

"Well, it could have been. I never did know what happened to him." Friday started to walk towards our destination. I stood there, flabbergasted and appalled that this man had ruined what was going to be a good night.

"Friday, let's go help him. Maybe see what the hell he was really trying to tell us. I mean, the nerve, trying to say that you were my father?" I knew deep in my mind that the man in the street was dead, but this was nothing I wished to say aloud.

Friday said nothing. He only walked ahead now and looked at his watch. It was five minutes of midnight on Friday.

"I know what he meant," said Friday, slowing his walk and slowly lifting his gaze from his wrist to me.

"About what? Which part?"

"I know what he meant about me being your father," said Friday, his eyes welling with tears now.

I saw then the strangest thing. Friday's face became haggard and leathery. White and grey and black hair rapidly grew from his face and the hair on his head changed the same colors all the while growing in length. His posture stooped and I heard his knees crack like dry kindling in a fire. He groaned and aged before my eyes. He looked a bit like his father had before he took off and collapsed in the street.

"Oh my God," was all I could manage.

"My father is dead. I will be in 24 hours. That was what he was saying to me. I didn't believe him. It's my name. That time is gone from my name. It is your time now. But you must not forget me. If you forget me that will happen to you," he pointed down the street at the lump that used to be his father.

With that, Friday turned and walked away, blending into the shadows off the buildings like a ripple on the sea among the waves.

I hurried back to my place, determined to shake this feeling of dread and bring back my demeanor of playfulness. I invited some friends over for that night and planned to make as much noise as my neighbors allowed. We played games, sang songs, drank for a while. I completely forgot about Friday and the scene in the street not twelve hours before.

The house remained thus until about half past twelve when there came a knock on my door that one of my guests answered. The guest came to get me and tell me that there was a peculiar girl waiting at the door in sweat pants and a hooded sweat shirt, asking to speak with me.

I went and greeted the new guest and asked her what she needed.

"I . . . well I don't need anything really. I was told by this old man in the street, emphatically really, that I must come to this address and tell you my name."

"Oh," I said, working to think of any old men I knew that would send such a creature on this task. When I thought of Friday and his transformation, I asked the young girl her name. I stood rooted to my spot, dreading the words that she would say, knowing it meant my doom; I had indeed forgotten Friday's warning.

"Well, it's Sunday if you must know."

I looked down at my shaking and newly wrinkled hands.

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