The Stranger

It is strange! A stranger’s eyes are piercing right through her, as if she is hollow, a woman with no flesh or bones. He looks at her startlingly as if she is a hologram of someone very familiar, perhaps a lost lover. Even stranger is her impulse to reciprocate the stranger’s timid scrutiny of her features, as if in search of some plausible reason to explain the need for stealing glances, and the need to propel her and him instantly into an impenetrable space.

Strange still, is the fluidity with which she moves around greeting everyone she knew in the bar as if deliberately availing him the chance to retrace the contours of her physique and juxtapose it to memory. Her natural bashfulness disappears. She moves gracefully, fully aware of his stare. She is on grand display. Every movement is a clue to the puzzle he is to her. She yearns to understand the extent of the force at play.

She walks to his table, completely avoiding his eyes, and greets his friend. A man she knew vaguely and hasn’t seen in so long. A man who has a slow-burning contained desire for her. The kind of desire that informs a lasting gentle love, if it ever materializes. He greets her with the utmost genuine delight. Little does he know she is only using him in part as a human shield from the stranger’s gaze, and in part as a pretense to be within the stranger’s space. So that she may notice his bashful smile, his deeply dimpled chin, his mesmeric eyes, and that calmness with which he regards her.

The friend stages an introduction of his dear friend, the stranger, who has just returned home for the first time from the Congo. The stranger seems startled by the turn of events, which seemed far-fetched when she arrived like an angelic apparition and plunged him into rapture, only five minutes earlier. He mustered the courage to say his full name – the way we do, up to our great grandfather’s name. He did so in the thickest Congolese French accent possible. He had to repeat it thrice until it vaguely sounded South Sudanese before she heard it correctly. There was a gush of conflicting emotions. While he was elated, she immediately became apprehensive. Locking the stranger’s stare, she only says her Christian name and hurries away. The stranger has a name. How sweet is that name! How strange that his name’s echo in her mind is a seed of joy!

***

At the farthest corner of the bar, enveloped in the dark, she stands still with tears streaming down her face. Her hands shake as she held her cell phone and considers placing that fateful call she thought she would never have to place, especially now that her father is on a sick bed in a foreign land.

“Hello, daughter,” her father’s weak voice reaches her ear, but only registers three seconds later in her confused mind.

In the most solemn voice, she says, “Baba, hi! Please sit down!”

“What is it? I am lying down.”

“I just found him, baba!”

“Who did you find?” He inquired with an unmistakable urgency in his voice.

“I just found my brother.”

His war-time sweetheart vanished with his six-months-old son decades ago. The last thing he heard was that mother and son were seen in eastern Congo eight years ago. It’s strange that after decades of fruitless search and countless false sightings and leads. After numerous treks into the forests of Western Equatoria and mountains of Eastern Equatoria. After contacting people in all the areas of displacement and refuge to no avail. And after heartaches and a family life poisoned by a father’s regret and misplaced contempt, a long-lost son is found in a stranger. The father closes his eyes, his mind racing and his heart torn in equal measure between begging God for this revelation to be true, lamenting the years lost, and praying for a few months’ extension of his waning life to spend with his son.

***

Droplets of rain on her forehead jolt her back from her daze. She turns around and saunters back to her table and sits down. She knows that the stranger’s eyes are searching for hers. But she needs a deep breath, and moments to gather her courage. She can put this off for another day or a week. The brother she never knew, the one whose absence broke her father’s heart and poisoned her mother’s life and hers with unhappiness, is right before her. There is a reason she met him today. There is a reason she was drawn to him. He is the most magnificent gift life is presenting her father in his twilight.

She walks to his table, completely avoiding his eyes and sits down in front of him.

“Excuse me for not introducing myself properly,” she says.

And while locking his stare, she says her full name – the way we do, up to our great grandfather’s name. Then the two strangers sat in a unified impenetrable space engulfed by the silence of their revelation.

 

© Apuk Ayuel Mayen 2015. All rights reserved.

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