Shattered nerves and alcohol. That’s what became life for Wilbur Jones, a man once known for his wide smile and many friendships. Back in those brighter days, he dreamt of becoming a doctor like pop, who young Wilbur wanted to make proud. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wilbur left UCLA to enlist in the Army, following in the footsteps of many family members past.
Wilbur felt proud of becoming a soldier; the country and world needed his service. Fears of going to war he kept inside, focusing on doing right. But war is war. Many battles and many deaths took a toll; the horrors he harbored. But it was the day he walked into Dachau, a concentration camp, to liberate the people there that broke him. He saw what he would never speak of again.
Wilbur returned home a spiritless man. Gone were the joyful sparkles in his youthful eyes. Friends became former friends. Pop paid his son’s expenses and came over every weekend, calling him throughout the week. “It’ll get better,” pop would say. Often they sat in silence with a beer in hand, the moments passing by.
Wilbur walked into the bar already a few drinks in, sitting down on a stool at the far end of the counter. The bartenders knew him. He didn’t cause trouble, never a mean drunk. And they knew his pain. His drink was always the same, whiskey neat. Which for him they kept a special bottle of their best, though diluted some with water. It was a little care they could show him.
Most people kept their distance, but a man no one knew walked in on this night. He wasn’t a regular, someone new in this part of town. Sitting down in the only empty counter chair, the one to the left of Wilbur, he ordered a glass of red wine and looked at his bar neighbor. The scar on Wilbur’s forehead caught his attention. It was unique, a remnant of a childhood injury. He had only ever seen one man with such a scar.
“Wilbur?” the man asked.
Wilbur turned his head and immediately recognized the man. “Pasha!”
The two jumped out of their seats and hugged a long warm embrace. For Pasha, the dirty clothes, foul breathe, the emptiness in Wilbur’s eyes shocked him, as did the unusually worn-out face of someone not even thirty years old. For Wilbur, it was just the opposite. He could smell the fine cologne and appreciated the expensive tailored suit on Pasha.
They talked all night. The bar stayed open for them even when closing time came. No one had seen Wilbur laugh in years.
Wilbur learned that Pasha was now Paul. After being liberated from Dachau, he spent some years in Europe before making his way to the U.S. A physician before the war, he became one again after immigrating. Now he was married with two young kids, a new home in the small Jewish community on the other side of town. A patient home visit brought him to Wilbur’s neighborhood and the bar for the first time.
Wilbur didn’t have much to say about life, nor did he have to. Pasha understood. He had seen others go down the same path. “Wilbur, will you come work with me? I remember at Dachau you told me that you were studying to become a doctor before the war. Let’s make that dream happen.”
“I don’t think I have it in me, Pasha. Look at me.”
“Remember how you met me at Dachau? You have lost your why, I can see it, like looking in a mirror. I know you can find it.”
Pasha put his hand out. With Pasha’s suit jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up, Wilbur could see the numbers on Pasha’s wrist. Wilbur had longed to forget Dachau. But he knew that Pasha had lived it. In their short time together during the liberation, a friendship sparked. Wilbur trusted Pasha. He put his hand out and clasped Pasha’s. “Ok.”
Note: “Yellow Roses for a Lotus Flower” is a historical fiction short story. The story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.