The mediator’s office was small and neat with a worn, pink carpet. Certificates graced the walls along with pictures of her, a miniature schnauzer and a laughing woman. The mediator was attractive and thin enough to look good dressed down while Sabeena felt like a sad potato. “I’m Efe,” she said, “and our aim is to get to the bottom of things so we don’t have to go to court.” Sabeena agreed. “This is only our first session, so it’s important we don’t expect miracles.”
“What did she say?”
“We’ll focus on your side of things…”
“What did she actually say? I want to know what she said about me.”
“It’s best we stick to…”
“Just tell me. Give me a gist.”
The mediator sighed. Sabeena imagined her conversation with her wife later about the awful woman, but it was tough really. Sabeena had to know. “Carly is hurt that you ceased contact after twenty years of friendship, with no explanation, but,” she held up a hand to prevent Sabeena from speaking, “we’re here to sort through the confusion.”
“It’s just like her to do this.” Sabeena rested her hands on her large stomach, “She never thinks anything is her fault. Sod it, let it go to court.”
“The process could take years.”
“Well, just let her win then. Say I agree to all of it.” Sabeena waved a dismissive hand.
“The last thing we want is guilt assigned to one of you. It’s very hard to shake off. Wherever you go, the local pub, shop or just your front garden, people will stare. That G never rubs off. It’s on your forehead for life, beaming your guilt to everyone you see, unless Carly withdraws her complaint. You’ll find it impossible to make new friends.”
“You just don’t want the court system clogged up.”
The mediator smiled gently. Sabeena wondered if she smiled during arguments at home. “It makes no difference to officials, Ms Bashir, and once this leaves my desk it’s out of my hands. To anyone above me, you’re just a piece of paper. I’m dealing with you now, as a human being, and I’m telling you I don’t want to see anyone assigned guilt. You’ll struggle. Now, if you really wish to go to court, there are some things in your favour. Friendships assign less than romantic relationships, sometimes,” she emphasised the last word, “and, as far as I can see, nothing terribly dramatic happened. You didn’t abandon her during chemo, for example. But the courts can be fickle. You might catch a judge on a bad day. You might remind them of a friend that let them down. Do you want to take that risk, or do you want to see if you can work things out?”
Sabeena filled her lungs. The mediator looked as honest as a busybody could be. She and her smiling partner occupied a world Sabeena would never be part of. Sabeena worked at the warehouse, she went home. Once of an evening she’d visit Carly, but that was over now. They’d laugh at ghost hunting shows and eat until they were stuffed. They’d complain about people who’d let them down. They’d assure each other it was the world’s problem, not theirs. “She ruined the whole thing.”
“In what sense?”
“I wasn’t well, so I rang her. That’s what you do with friends, you ring them. She came over and I could tell she didn’t want to be there. So, she ruined it.” The memory bit hard, the crying, the Vodka shakes, the loneliness, Carly’s coldness.
“I’m sick of it,” she’d said, “look at you.” It was hateful.
Sabeena clenched the arms of the chair. “She ruined it by not wanting to be there?” said the mediator gently.
“She could claim tough love, though. Perhaps she was trying to snap you out of... whatever it was.”
“Was she always there before? Was it the first time you called her?”
“No.” Sabeena stared at her shoes. It hadn’t been the first time, or the second, just the first time she’d received that reaction. It wasn’t right, begging and pleading for a friend to care. It shouldn’t be that way.
“How were things after that?”
Sabeena shrugged, “normal. I don’t know, maybe not. She talked about my ex all the time. They were friends. But she’d seen how he was, the things he said to me, but she always mentioned him, always. Like it’s my problem he was a shit and I should be gracious and talk highly of him. And I’ve got a bad back and she always, always complained when I cancelled nights out.” The words fell from her mouth like foam from a snarling dog.
“Great,” said the mediator, scribbling notes, “this is all useful.”
“And I’d get these random text messages telling me what I’d said or done wrong. It was like being on a knife-edge. Would I wake up to a message after a night out, telling me off for not blocking her name on some post on Facebook?”
The mediator continued taking notes. Something turned in Sabeena’s stomach. “But… I suppose she’s got problems too, you know. She doesn’t always know how to approach people. And we used to have fun. Once,” she said, giggling, “we dressed up in these stupid outfits we got in a thrift shop, wigs and all, and went to the pub.” After a while, Sabeena stopped laughing and chewed a nail. Carly must have found her drinking days difficult.
“I think we’ve got enough to claim Mutual Agreement. Enough happened on both sides for the friendship to just… run its course.”
Sabeena nodded. “I wish her well, you know?”
Sabeena gathered her coat and shuffled awkwardly from the office. It was a nice day. Perhaps she’d go to the park. Energised for the first time in weeks, she set off.