Odd man

Submitted by Abigail Airuedomwinya to Contest #17 in response to: Write a story about a family dinner that includes someone unexpected showing up.... view prompt

In the early days of November, a man appeared at our doorstep begging ma for bread and water. It was so early ma was still wearing the day's ideas over her head. Her eyes were still half-closed, the sun just coming up. The knock on the door had not been expected so ma had walked clumsily to the door and pulled it open.

Over at the other house, someone was yelling. And ma cursed under her breath. It was to be the second day in a row where her neighbor, Mrs. Winifred, would be screaming at her son for not coming in the night before. Ma made a mental note to talk to Mrs. Winifred about the yelling if she got over today in one piece.

The man that stood before ma had a very plain unremarkable face. His hair was disheveled, his face dirty. He had on an oversized coat that smelt of countless nights on a park bench. Ma would later describe him as resembling a poor child, lost and disturbed. But he was not a child.

I was seated at the kitchen with a mug of tea clasped in my hands when the knock came. I did not get up from the chair. I simply sat, stared, and listened. Ma said he had very blue eyes like the sky on a crisp summer day. She gave out so many little details, Father teased her about staring profusely at their visitor. But she had not stared, I had.

My description of him was way different. Unlike ma who'd stood before him and smelt his intrusion, I had sat on a chair and watched him closely. His hair was wet and dirty. Ma said it smelt like hell. On other days, I'd call his hair brown but last month the color of his hair had not been evident. His eyes were as green as emerald, sparking as he talked but he had a plain face.

As he talked, gesticulated, I saw that his hands shook. I heard little of what he said after he asked for a little bread and water. Later ma would say he talked about himself, showing her the picture from his dirty wallet of a young albino. He called her April. Ma was suspicious of him. She said he claimed to come from the East, said he was going to see April. Surely ma could care less. She thought he was a little crazy, a sad odd man.

Ma had walked into the kitchen, offered me a tired smile and given him what he wanted. She invited him in. He refused and walked away, forgetting to offer his thanks. Ma found him suspicious but that had been a month ago and ma could scarcely remember the odd visitor.

Today was Thanksgiving and father was saying he wanted his family close by. There was Tom who I stopped talking to years ago. Then there was Margaret Atwood. She was married to Greg and they had a son, Luke. Then there was me, the third child.

I was in my old room, restocking my new clothes when the door opened. Tom stood by the door for an entire minute, just watching me. I thought he'd leave but he didn't and maybe one day I'd ask myself why. We hadn't talked for years and now suddenly he was here with me. I should thank Thanksgiving Day for this.

"Hey, clary. Nice outfit." He said.

It was awkward. I was wearing a turtleneck gown and old cowgirl shoes. It was the worst outfit ever.

"Thanks," I said.

He leaned closer. I could see the ragged lines behind his eyes and I could tell he was not young anymore.

"Margaret is kind of helping mum out in the kitchen. But she's burnt half of the dishes already..."

"She was never a good cook," I say.

We both shared a strained laugh.

"I miss you, " he suddenly says. And for days his words would hunt my very existence. When luke would fall and break an arm four months later, it would be the same words I'd gush out to Margaret.

" Me too, " I say.

We hug.

When we sat together out in the patio, a bunch of lighted candles filling out the darkness, dinner served, Luke began to talk about school. He soon stopped talking.

"How's work clary? You hardly mention it." Pa asked chewing his cheese with delicate slowness.

I say, " works been all great. I mean, I'm working as intel for my art idol and making good money."

" And a boyfriend?" Ma asked.

I would have told them who Jane was. I could already picture their faces as I told them I was in love with a girl. But I didn't. I could tell ma would find it repulsive. Pa hated the idea as much as he hated the neighbor next door. Better to leave it unsaid. There was a knock on the door.

" I'll go get it," Margaret said and left.

We share a talk about Greg's business. Then Margaret appeared, a confused look on her face. Behind her, a man stands, his hands clasped in front of him as though in silent prayer. Even with a month apart, we could tell he was our odd visitor. He still had on the same coat but he looked better, almost as if he had recently taken a bath.

"What...aare you doing here?" Ma tried to be polite but we were all shocked.

He looked at Ma, sighed and said, " I forgot to say thank you."

Ma let him sit at the table. Ma let him eat the mashed potatoes and stuffed Chicken. Only then did he let himself spare a word. He said, " you've shown me so much hospitality. Thank you so much."

"How's April?" I ask.

He says nothing but the tears are threatening to fall. In his silence, we find our answers.

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