William looked for his keys in the usual places, under the couch, on the kitchen table, in the side pocket of the red cardigan sweater that he wore during his long walks on Sunday dusk at the beach, where he was always the last person on Earth to watch the sun set on another weekend.
It was 11:45 PM. Time was speeding towards the New Year, and William had no car keys. Was God sending William a message? Was it preordained that he would always be the last? William laughed to himself. Even if he found the car keys, he knew what would happen next. The car wouldn’t start! The battery would be dead. There would be no gas. It was his destiny. He could not break out of his status quo. There was no one to offer him a friendly hand or a kind word. There was only… himself, Willam Z. Zweig, a simple man who always came in last, an outsider with curly brown hair, now with a wisp of grey, ten fingers imperfect from his habit of nail-biting, and two large feet. William looked down at these feet and for the first time in his life, acknowledged them as his dear friends. William could depend on them for help. He could run!
Pebbles and dust flew into the air as William raced down Itu Asau Road. He could feel the shadow of the approaching New Year barreling towards him with every step. The revelers of the world had long gone home from Times Square and Trafalgar Square, and the First Moment of 2009 was ready to call it a day in Samoa, like the overworked postman stumbling through his final stop on his daily rounds.
William race, controlling his breathing, maintaining his focus. He need to pass his neighbor’s house so he would not be last. Up ahead, he could see a glimmer of light. It was the lantern that his neighbor, the cocoa exporter, kept on his front porch. Pa’aga, a silver-haired life-long bachelor, an avid gardener of tomatoes, was sitting outside, in his favorite rattan chair, comfortably waiting for the arrival of the New Year. William slowed his pace, not wanting to create any suspicion, hoping to walk past Pa’aga without even a conversation. William pretended that he was taking a leisurely nighttime stroll, although his tense posture was a sure giveaway of something else. As William passed the home of Pa’aga, William stepped on a twig and it cracked. Pa’aga switched on a flashlight, the bright ray striking William in his sweaty and anxious face.
“Oh, it’s you William,” said the friendly Pa’aga. “How are you, my neighbor? Happy Almost New Year!”
“Happy Almost New Year to you,” replied William, still walking, not missing a beat.
“Where are you going at this hour?” asked Pa’aga, the ultra-curious intonation in his voice making William’s stomach turn.”
“Just taking a walk.”
“What a pleasant way to bring in the New Year. I’ll join you.” he said.
William almost fainted from the tension.
It was 11:54. William and Pa’aga were now walking side by side. If William stepped up the pace, so did Pa’aga. His neighbor’s breathing was erratic, as if the speed was too much for him, but he gave no indication of slowing. William liked the good-natured Pa’aga, and had no problems with him. In fact, Pa’aga has always been the most gracious neighbor, even coming over once to help capture a feisty lizard that had once made his way into William’s kitchen. William’s only concern now was not to be the last… again.
Pa’aga was a talkative man, and as the two men strolled together in a perfectly even line, like soldiers marching in unison, they chatted, mostly about local gossip. Did the local pastor really have an affair with the rugby coach’s wife? Will coconut prices skyrocket after the bad summer?
William’s mind drifted. He was younger than his Samoan neighbor and could probably outrun him, but Pa’aga was in good shape from years of physical labor in the fields, so William could not be assured of beating him in a foot race. William thought of tripping Pa’aga; he would have the element of surprise on his side. Pa’aga would stumble and fall on his face, while William would race towards the New Year, reaching it a split second before his friend. While this plan seemed practical, this idea, and the very fact that he thought it, saddened William. He was not a violent man, and pushing Pa’aga went against everything he believed in since childhood. William’s darker self berated his moral stance, stating quite forcefully that this inability to take the necessary action was William’s biggest problem. Was he afraid of doing “what it takes” in order NOT to be last?
“It’s 11:58.” said Pa’aga. “It’s almost New Year’s. Are you making any resolutions, my friend?”
William’s demeanor changed. He heart was warmed by Pa’aga’s caring concern for his well-being, and his own icy scheming melted away. William smiled at his neighbor.
“I would like to change some things in my life,” said William. “I don’t know if I would call it a resolution, but I would like to take more action in my life.”
“I have been thinking the same about my own life.”
William nodded. Perhaps the two neighbors, the Samoan and the outsider, were soulmates after all. William came up with a new idea for the final moments of the year, one of compromise. They would enter the New Year together, hand in hand, side by side, so NO one would be last. They would face the future in unison, like musicians playing a duet, each guiding the other, helping him achieve his personal goals.
“I read a good book this year about taking action,” continued Pa’aga. “It is called “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan: Stop Being a Loser.” Have you read it?”
“No,” said William. “But I know it was a best-seller.”
“In the book, the author says that the world consists of winners and losers, and it is your action that determines your position in life…”
As he spoke those words, William noticed a gleam in Pa’aga’s eyes. He had seen this look before in a few of the villagers after they drove into town and attended that free self-help seminar with the newly successful author of “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan: Stop Being a Loser.” When they returned back to their farms and tiny homes, they all had this same look, as if they had gone through a major transformation. Their new gaze exuded power and confidence, but read icy and cold, something foreign to this tropical island.
Pa’aga looked at his watch.
“It is almost the New Year, my friend. 10-9-8-7…”
At the count of seven, Pa’aga reached down and grabbed a fallen palm tree branch, then strongly whacked it against William’s knees. William fell down in excruciating pain.
“I’m sorry,” said Pa’aga, “I’m a winner.”
Pa’aga walked several feet ahead of William. William tried to stand up, but he couldn’t move. He fell into the wet mud. Pa’aga stared at his watch again.
“…3…2…1. Happy New Year to me!”
Pa’aga paused for a split-second.
“And now, Happy New Year to you! Even though you are last, William, I hope this is a healthy and happy year for you.”
Pa’aga helped William up, shook his hand in the friendly manner of most Samoans, and returned to his home. William stood there, dead to his feelings.
New Year’s Eve had arrived in Samoa. William was the last to celebrate, as usual. This was his fate. Distraught, William refused to return home. He didn’t want to look at his face in the mirror, to sit alone in the last house on the last plot of land, in the most Western corner of the last island. He shook off the pain and staggered into town. If there ever was a night to go to Sammy’s, the local Tiki bar, and drink himself to a stupor, tonight was the night.
It took William an hour to get to Sammy’s bar. Broken champagne bottles and confetti covered the parking lot. There had been a lot of partying going on earlier, and now most of the Samoan revelers were back home, safely tucked in bed with their loved one, content with their lot in life, and positive about their future.
William Z. Zweig entered the bar and sat at the counter. He ordered a drink. The only customer still there was Aysa, the woman who ran the village coffee shop. She had dirty blond hair and attractive features, but there was a sadness to her posture. She had just finished her fourth mojito. William didn’t know Aysa very well. He rarely went into coffee shops, since he was always the onew being served last.
Aysa ordered another drink.
“You sure?” asked the bartender.
“Bring it on.” she slurred.
Aysa was alone on this New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have offers. Men asked her out all the time. Even the mayor’s brother, N’iao, had invited her to black-tie even at the town hall sponsored by the sugar industry. But Aysa didn’t click with the local Samoan men. She went on dates out of obligation, because she was hopeful. She had needs, just like all women. She wanted love, companionship, and sex, but the men she met were selfish. They didn’t listen to her needs, or care about her satisfaction.
“Better to just drink mojitos at Sammy’s on New Year’s Eve,” she told herself earlier in the day. And now she regretted the decision. The loneliness was overwhelming, and no amount of liquor could fill the emptiness within.
“Happy New Year” grumbled a sarcastic William to Aysa as he paid for his first drink. He left the bartender a nice tip, figuring someone should be happy tonight.
“Yeah,” said Aysa. “To you, too. Happy New Year.”
As a man who was always last, William understood pain, and and he could feel Aysa’s unhappiness surrounding him, touching his skin.
“It’s a new year. Time to start anew. Did you have a bad year?” asked William, trying to get her to open up, thinking this would help her move on to a fresh start.
“Yeah, bad. Bad Choices. Bad Men. No love. No comfort. Selfish men who cared only about themselves.”
Aysa hadn’t had an orgasm in three years. Although she blamed the men in her life, she knew deep down that this was her own fault as well. She didn’t know how to relax, even after a drink.
William bowed his head in shame. It was as if Aysa saw right through him. He was a selfish man like the others, only caring about his position in life. His lastness had consumed his every thought, drove him from his childhood home, isolated him, and almost made him push Pa’aga onto the ground, going against his own very nature.
Aysa didn’t know William very well, but she had seem him around town, usually avoiding coming in to her coffee shop. He seemed interesting, but eccentric.
“And what about you?” she asked. “What are you doing alone on New Year’s eve in an empty Samoan bar? What’s your problem?”
“My problem?” William sighed. “My problem is that I always come last.”
That night, Aysa had three orgasms. William was in her bed, and came last.
“I love you, William Z. Zweig,” she said.
As the two lovers snuggled in Aysa’s thatch-covered home, William embraced his lastness, finally understanding God’s will and His plan for his future. It was a Happy New Year.