These are days of recession. It is common for borrowers to be ‘underwater’. You borrow and your asset value covers a little short of your assets. So you are left floating in the deep, half dead sea of debt.
Some months earlier the small business I had had failed. Someone had helped me out temporarily with a small measly income job. With ‘downsizing’ all around, I was struggling to keep myself on the rolls. I found myself vulnerable as I felt there was a skill mismatch. To pay off loans, keep my kids at the University and to meet other commitments I had to slog, over borrow. My boss was a bit difficult and would sometimes upbraid me in the presence of others: “Are you breaking stones? Work a little smarter”, he suggested. The approach gave me a complex. Word slowly gained that I was not necessarily a success.
Now with the property valuation fall, I felt caught in an elephant trap. I stared at an impregnable wall. I knew I was a bankrupt. If your known assets cannot cover your liabilities, your net worth in the lender’s eyes is negative. In simple words,I became a tenant in my own house. A tenant served notice to vacate. Gradually, my acquaintances ceased to visit me at home, except very few like my friend, Austin.
I sold my car, put myself on the best of face and boarded public transport. People in the neighbourhood suddenly realized that I was turning or had already turned insolvent. May be it was a complex but I felt people were largely avoiding me. I felt they looked at me as much as an unwelcome cockroach in the kitchen cabinet.
In such a ‘Kafkaesque’ situation, I found that people ceased to invite me for social events in the community. I had suddenly fallen out of their grace. A social ‘pariah, I was compelled to adapt to an economic led social seclusion. Sometimes, reluctantly, my friend Austin would ask me if I had been invited to a certain function or a wedding or similar event and I would nonchalantly confide in him that I had no invitation. Other than Austin and my spouse, no one really seemed to notice at these social slights. Suddenly, there was perhaps an apprehension in the eyes of the people around me that I might borrow money from them. I consoled myself stating that this is what happens if you live beyond your means, even if the contributory factor was a global recession.
After weeks of resigned acceptance, I suddenly got an invitation to one of the local ‘big’ weddings. I was quite excited to receive it. Mr. Henry was among the higher echelons of the community and the an invitation extended for the wedding of his son might be a turn of tide, I said to myself. There would be social ‘reacceptance’, I reasoned to myself.
I was proud to inform my spouse of this invitation. I tried to persuade her but she was reluctant to join me. Both of us planned which suit I should wear. We decided that I needed to have the suit dry cleaned for the occasion. It might mean an extra coin, but it was worth the spending for social reacceptance that this wedding invitation meant.
Joyous, in the evening I went to visit Austin. I pretended it was a casual visit. “I have been invited for Mr. Henry’s son’s wedding”, I said. Hs eyes seemed to light up when he murmured “good”. “We shall go together”, I said. He readily agreed.
The wedding was as grand an affair as it should be. Suddenly I was happy to be back to the society… I felt secure in this crowd. Most of the time I tagged on with Austin as most people seemed reluctant to go beyond pleasantries with me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed just being there.
As we were leaving, I thought I should specially thank Mr. Henry for inviting me. I went up to him and did that. The look in his eyes, and the coldness of his handshake perplexed me. He seemed surprised, nay a little taken aback, that I had come for the occasion. Had there been a mistake?
It nagged me. In Austin’s car I was lost in thought. “Why are you silent?” Austin asked me. “Forget Henry. He is an egoistic guy”, he said concentrating on the road ahead.
I then guessed that Austin had reinserted the wedding card received in his own name on to a new envelope. He had forwarded it on to my address. That was a friend’s way of re-engineering a social reacceptance. Even though it meant a lot to me, for Mr. Henry I was an uninvited visitor.