The literature section at Odel to be precise.
I was flipping through a book when someone crashed in to me and cold liquid ran down my right leg.
An involuntary curse died on my lips as I looked down at the pint-sized culprit.
A pair of hazel eyes stared back up, unflinching at my slightly annoyed gaze.
He was a handsome fellow. Probably 2 feet tall, dark brown curls and golden skin. Mediterranean I assumed.
A quick look around confirmed that there was no mommy nearby.
Great, I thought, just me and a lost kid.
At least the cold liquid he spilled on me turned out to be just water.
I couldn’t help but smile.
No response. He just stared back. Neither hostile nor friendly. Maybe he doesn’t speak English.
So I went back to my book browsing.
But out of the corner of my eye, I watched the little man as he lurked around me. Stealing glances. Hoping that I would be watching him.
I pretended to ignore.
Next thing I know, he’s handing me a book. I stared blankly down at the brightly colored toy cars on the cover.
As I tried to fathom what it is that he wants me to do with the book, read it to him or buy it for him, I heard the thud of hurried footsteps behind me.
It’s the dad. I don’t really look at him but vaguely notice that he looks Sri Lankan.
With a sigh of relief I hand the book back to my new-found friend and the dad asks him to say bye to me.
He obediently said buh-bye, I blew him a kiss and delved back in to my book.
The second time I didn’t even hear footsteps.
“Delilah?” someone said my name hesitantly in a voice I didn’t really recognize.
Swivelled around and it was the dad, minus the kid.
I stared. Not quite comprehending for a second.
Then he smiled.
A hand flew to my mouth as recognition hit like a punch in the gut.
“Di” I managed to whisper. My pet name for him slipped out easy, as if I say it everyday.
And he just smiled, studied my face.
“Is he yours?” I asked, incredulous, nodding in the direction of the boy.
“Yeah. He just turned 3”
I stared in wonder. A million thoughts rushing around my head faster than a hurricane.
He was a father. Of this beautiful child. Whose mother could not possibly be Sri Lankan.
When, how, why???
The last time I saw him, I was in school and he was drunk. He was angry and self-destructive. No longer my mischievous mate, my partner in crime.
His heart was broken. He had lost the girl he loved. She didn’t love him back. Not the way he wanted her to.
That day, he took my hand and promised me that he would stop drinking his life away. And that I would forever be his friend.
Then he disappeared.
He cut all ties with friends and soon after moved to another country. Didn’t take calls or reply emails. His parents were deliberately vague when his friends called.
For 9 years no one knew where he was and I eventually ran out of prayers for him.
All these years I had waited for this day, wished for this moment, imagined the scenario and gone over the words I would say to him.
But as he stood before me I realized that nothing could have prepared me for the myriad of emotions that surged within.
“I got married 4 years ago” he explained. I barely nodded.
“Why?” I asked trying to keep my voice even. All the questions I had been saving for him encapsulated in a single word.
He took a deep breath and chewed his lower lip. At least that hadn’t changed.
“I’m sorry I disappeared on you. But you of all people know why I needed to. And after being such a jackass and avoiding everyone for years it was just too hard to come back”
Looking in to his eyes, remembering the times they were blood-shot and full of pain, I asked for no more explanations.
“Are you happy now?” I asked
He looked over at his son and nodded.
I gave him a wry smile and asked him if it isn’t a little too late to care.
“I always cared. And I know what you have been up to over the years.”
I was speechless as he gave me a quick summary of what he knew about my life.
A moment later we were both grinning at each other. Because he was spot on.
“Ok I have to go now. My wife is waiting downstairs. I’ll be in touch”
I raised an eyebrow. But I was just too happy to see him. Sarcasm dissolved.
He touched my hair for the briefest moment and smiled a slow sad smile. And I knew I may never see him again.
“Take care Sunshine” he said finally. The name he used to call me when we were teenagers. The name I had longed to hear all these years.
I watched him walk away, scoop up his son and look back at me over his shoulder one more time.
Then he was gone. Probably forever.
“Someday out of the blue, in a crowded street or a deserted square, I’ll turn and I’ll see you…” that song always reminded me of him.
Walking along the streets of New York, I know I unconsciously looked for his face.
And I knew it would happen someday, but never in my wildest dreams imagined it would happen on my quick lunch break at Odel.