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Constance, Across by Richard Cumyn

Constance, Across

by Richard Cumyn

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Constance Hardy is a high school English teacher of early middle age, living a life that has followed the same pattern for many years. But that is about to change. While on the bus one morning she notices a Pakistani colleague from her school, Afzal Khan, and is shocked and confused to find herself smitten by him. Moments later the bus is involved in an accident. Along with the other passengers, she and Afzal are ordered off the bus only to see the lifeless body of a woman in one of the stricken vehicles. The trauma establishes a connection between them. Constance cannot shake thoughts of Afzal from her mind, and these thoughts quickly become obsessive. In class later that morning frustration with her students pushes her to act vindictively, and she reprimands a student in front of the class, rationalizing her behaviour by blaming it on emotional trauma from the accident. The next morning she learns that the student she humiliated has committed suicide and named her in his suicide note.

The story is told by Constance in the present and past tense. Months later she has left her home, her job and her family and is living in Pakistan, where she accompanied Afzal after his expulsion from Canada. The audience for her narrative is the father of the dead boy, who has travelled halfway across the world seeking answers. Constance’s story alternates between two narrative threads, one describing events that took place in Ottawa and led to her decision to abandon her life in Canada, and the other—the present day in Lahore, Pakistan—revealing her new life with Afzal and his family. The emotional impact of this novella is heightened by its brevity. At the end we are left wondering what the future holds for this woman who is forging a new identity within a culture that couldn't be more alien. Richard Cumyn has written a powerful examination of the forces that conspire to make us do the things we do, and the extremes to which we will go when pushed to the wall. ( )
  icolford | Apr 20, 2013 |
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