“Why would I ever marry someone who can’t even take care of himself? You’re not man enough for all this. You’re a delusional broke boy. Take your “potential” on somewhere. Why would you want you for me? Do you hate me?”
These were the words he carried with him. These words were scars his memory picked at like a child with a freshly healed scab. Before he could even realize, there was no more city. There was only peace, quiet, and an empty plain in the outskirts of town. Fists clinched and teeth grit as he returned to his reality.
Her words were true. He had not established himself in the overcrowded city. Salience was full of competition. People were always looking to get ahead of each other in status, finances, possessions, or spouses. There were competitions for everything, even for who had the most alluring yawn. It was said the buildings reflected the nature of competition within their people as they fought against each other to reach the clouds. As the skyscrapers blotted out the sky so were the people blotted out by their rivalries.
In this great city, Yvonne was just another trophy for winning. She had to be the best woman for the best man to obtain. She knew it. Her mother knew. Everyone but Khalil knew it.
Khalil thought their friendship was all he needed to become her suitor. They had grown together, shared their dreams, helped each other during their trials, and loved each other through their mistakes. In his mind, they already had the type of friendship that could blossom into a lifetime of love. He didn’t foresee her no longer understanding his value. He felt foolish now that a great distance had been put between them.
“I’ll show her,” he thought. “She made a mistake. She just didn’t see me.”
He took his soft hands and carved through the dirt. Little by little, he ravaged the greenery until all he saw was the soil. Through each cut, bruise, and gush of insects, he honed his digging. By the third hundred-foot trench, he had gained an audience to marvel at a Black man’s determination. A farmer approached him.
“Your hands are strong and your heart determined. Come work at my farm and I will teach you how to become a great farmer with much land and produce,” he said. “The soil you have chosen here is not worth the effort and the land is uneven. That is why no one has claimed it already. Sometimes, my boy, a field can only be just that. Come, let me show you what a farmland looks like.”
He heeded the farmer’s words. Without delay, he started working at his farm. Over time, and yet in no time at all, he helped expand the farm. His work ethic allowed for more acres to be tilled and his consistency drew the aid of several workers. His average size turned none for him nor against him. They knew, under his leadership, they’d not only exceed their desired production but also feed their families.
As an act of gratefulness, the farmer gave part of his farm and its workers to Khalil. With that land, he built his estate and increased his name throughout the outer limits of the city. Before long, he became a partner to his former boss, gaining stalls within the market alongside all the traders in the land.
They gathered seeds from the wild and the city. They planted all sorts of food and flower. Quickly, his farm became a market, and those on the outskirts of the city began to look to him for agriculture and nursery. With this newfound success, land, and workforce, he began to believe in himself again.
Despite knowing he was capable, he hated how he never had the chance to prove himself in the crowded city. Out in the fields, he discovered himself and was happy. However, his happiness could not last with the scab. Seeing his workers create families fostered feelings of mourning. He revisited the city to see if Yvonne would approve of him.
“See me,” he said. “See how I have established a farmland outside the city. Hundreds of families rely on me. I have created a space large enough for you to be proud to have me.”
“Proud!?” she replied with disdain. “Am I to be a farmer’s wife? Living out in the fields, sitting on a rocking chair, mothering children, hidden away behind your large tractors and corn fields? You think yourself a great man, but you had to leave the city of great men to be successful. You only thrive when there is no one to challenge you. You are not worthy of me. Pick a lesser, uglier woman since that is all you can obtain. I deserve to be shown, not hidden.”
Sullied, he returned to his farm. All that he had done became distasteful to him. The endless fields of food, the numerous vineyards, the rainbow gardens, and the compliments of neighbors did little to soften his disposition. He wanted Yvonne. There was nothing, and no one, that could remove this desire.
Thus, he sold his farm, market, gardens, and property to move back into Salience. If Yvonne would not respect his growth in the fields, then she will have to respect his growth amongst the skyscrapers. With the skills of his former employ, he used his hands to begin a career in construction, paving roads, building foundations, and creating gardens.
As before, many gathered to marvel at the work of his hands. He had impressed them, causing hundreds to join his new business. Before long, a half-dozen gardens, three dozen streets, and countless facilities had his handiwork embedded in them. The city was his land and he would till it until it all looked how he wished.
His name, once again, became known in a room of elites. If you wanted quality work done faster than the rest, you called Khalil. Whether he was handsome or ugly did not matter. All anyone could speak on was his talent. His joy had returned, and with it, his confidence. He knew he could convince Yvonne now.
He returned to her and cried, “Respect me! Now, I have built a second business, a second home, and a prominent life within Salience. Surely, you will see that you belong with me.”
She shook her head and lifted her left hand. “You build on lands not owned by you. I deal with men who own property, not tools in warehouses. Men who have workers work for them while they vacation. Men who could buy your business and never feel it in their wallet. Should I abandon mansions for your two-story house or lower floor condominium? Should I leave my maid to come clean for you? Should I depart from my chef to come fill your stomach? Soon, I will be the diamond upon his wrist, the apple of his eye, and the prize amongst his treasures. You never stood a chance. If you care for me, give up. Release me from your heart so that my dreams can be fulfilled.”
Crushed by this new revelation, he returned to his home empty. His countenance fell so low, he could not be left alone. No manner of encouragement could help him feel whole. Yvonne was the love of his life. Yvonne was supposed to be his wife. Now, she neared another. Once again, everything he had done felt meaningless.
He sold his company and bought multiple properties around the city. Using the business sense he had learned, he had rental properties and skyscrapers built upon his lands. Lured by his money, many came to occupy jobs in his territories. Before long, he stopped showing his face. He remained tucked away in a private mansion, plotting, and focused.
Within a short time, he had hired maids, chefs, and even had babysitters under contract. Whoever met him loved him, and would’ve given their life to serve him, but he would not let them close to his heart. He was a recluse who used his hands to sign papers and that was all. There was only one who could stand beside him, and she was away.
All of life became mundane. He had lost himself in the pile of wealth he kept growing. Nothing he worked on seemed purposeful, just greedy. Whenever he lifted a shovel, it was to take pictures for the paparazzi. Whenever he dug into the ground, it was to place a symbolic flagpole for his business constructing another building on an empty land. It would be a building that would not have a garden. Flowers seemed inefficient and more of an expense than an art. The Khalil of today wouldn’t walk past, let alone stop and converse with, the Khalil of yesterday. He was altogether different.
One day, he passed by Yvonne on his way to the bank. He barely recognized her. The shine in her eyes had dulled. The foundation had thickened upon her face. Her hair was dyed and her body warped from surgery. Yet, she had her wedding ring.
Remorseful, he stopped her and asked, “Was it ever about the wealth? Was it ever about what I owned or didn’t own or where I owned it? Would you have ever opened your heart to loving me?”
“No,” she said faintly. “Your potential enraged me because I had none of my own. Your determination allowed you to fight against the status life gave to you, while I only knew how to be a trophy for some rich man with a dozen affairs. I wanted you to hate your place in life as I hated mine, but every time, you simply grew. As the flowers in your many gardens that I used to walk by and smell, you only knew how to bloom… and that made me feel like the dirt you stood on.”
Torn, he asked, “How could you come to hate me so!?”
“I don’t know… and I don’t know if I’ll ever know.” With remorse, she added. “But if you still want love, I know the perfect woman for you. She is much younger than I and much prettier than I ever was. She is a greater trophy than I could ever hope to be.”
With his hand raised, he pleaded, “Please… Enough. I never desired trophies. I have sold business after business and home after home. What I desire cannot be found by you. You couldn’t find it in yourself. You would only lead me to a woman like you, who would hate me for trying to be something important to someone who never cared about me. We will live with the decisions we’ve made and nothing more.”
Bitter, he departed. With no more love for Salience, Khalil once again sold all of his businesses, buildings, homes, and contracts. He left the city, never to return. Some say he returned to the farm, where he was last happy. Some say he remains with the city, building with his hands rather than writing checks. Some say he was a man Yvonne created in her head to cope with the pain of adultery.
Either way, he was a man you’d never forget, and yet, a man everyone had forgotten. He was a shadowy face in the memory of elders. A dream eaten by greed; a hope stifled by realities. Another soul swallowed by society’s insistence on prominence.
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