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The Stranger

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One day at the beginning of the month, the Stranger arrived on my doorstep. He carried his luggage with his hands; his expensive black leather shoes stood proudly on the doormat. Here I am, his posture stated. The man you’ve all been waiting for. Greet me like your king.
He had to wait outside a little longer though, because he no longer had the keys to his house anymore.
He’d been away too long.

I put on my best smile as I tugged the door open. A scent of lavender soap wafted outside, escaping the confines of the gloomy hall.
My mother had cleaned house the whole week expressly for him. I had argued against it: after all, it is his house. Why should we treat him like a guest?
This home isn’t his hotel. At least, it shouldn’t be.

He stepped inside like he’s been here all along, nodding at all the changes we’ve made like he’s seen them a thousand times. His hair is a bit grayer at the temples and his skin is a bit more frayed and browned but it’s still the same old crooked smile and rough hands.
From inside his brand-name luggage box, he brought out gifts for me and my mother. Like a book can make up for a year of absence.

Gradually, all our lives fell in step again; the Stranger, my mother and I.
We learnt again what we forgot: that he likes to sing while cooking, that he loves to garden but only crops, never flowers. He seems surprised when I tell him I don’t like soccer much anymore, that I really prefer drawing. He stares, bewildered, at my mother’s newly trimmed short hair.
Slowly, the tunes of his off key folk songs fill the kitchen once more.

I wish it could stay like that forever: the Stranger, my mother and I.

But he’ll leave in a week.
He gets business calls more frequently now, his obtrusive ringtone often interrupting conversations. Sometimes, the phone shrills at the middle of the night and he picks it up, goes outside where the connection is better and talks for hours and hours on end.
His work is calling him away.
I plead with him to stay just one more day; just one more day and I will be happy.
But he waves me away with a falsely jovial, paternal smile; the kind of smile that makes you feel worthless.

Next time I see him, we’ll all be a year older. He’ll have more white hairs than gray by the time, and I’ll be more mature.
People can change within a year. People can die within a year. Your whole world can turn on it’s head – all within a year.
Time won't stop for neither you or me.
Why can’t he see that?

And I really do wish I can just be daddy’s little girl forever and ever, but I can’t. In two years time, I’ll be learning to drive. Soon I’ll be in university. And then I’d be an adult.
And he won’t know who I am, just like I don’t know him anymore.
One day, I’ll watch as he leaves me behind again; but this time around I’ll have a stony face and stony heart, not a single tear on my cheeks. When no one is begging for him, will he finally come running back?
By then I’d be a Stranger to him, just like he is already to me.

When he’s gone, at night, I cry; hugging my knees to my chest, trying to press away that dark feeling of desperate unhappiness. I don’t sob anymore, the tears just roll down forever and ever in a salty waterfall. Sometimes, when I miss him oh so much I go through his closet, rifling through the business suits in tones of white and black, the striped ties hanging on the rack like soldiers on parade. I press my face into the soft, forgiving fabric and try to find him in the scent of the clothing; that warm yarn and tobacco scent that is my father.
Doesn’t he know?

In the middle of the month, the Stranger – my dad – leaves. We drive him to the airport. He takes his brand name suitcase in his strong, worn hands and walks through the airport doors as we wave goodbye. He doesn’t look back, even if I do.

And he leaves, just like that.

In the car I start to cry; tears streaming down my face silently. I remember when I was small, and the Stranger was self-employed. I remember the good times, the fun times. The times when the tunes he sung filled not only the kitchen, but our lives.

It will be another year before I see my father again.

But still, I love him.



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