by Phyllis Bohonis
SSandy looked up as another customer entered the highway restaurant where she waitressed. He hesitated before slowly easing his way in and choosing a stool at the counter. He dropped a well-worn backpack by his feet before looking at the menu board.
Coffee pot in hand, Sandy approached him with a smile. “Coffee to start?”
The stranger nodded without speaking. As she got closer she noticed his clothes were clean but well-worn. He made no eye contact as he ordered chili, a daily standard in the café.
The supper trade had come and gone leaving only one other diner sitting at a table near the window. When Sandy set the bowl of steaming chili in front of the newcomer, she noticed his hands shaking. She also spotted the splashed coffee under and around his cup. Retrieving some napkins she wiped up the liquid and offered him a refill. He shook his head and mumbled something indiscernible. She apologized and asked him to repeat himself. When he lifted his face, his eyes were glassy. Sandy wondered if the man was ill, on drugs, or mentally unstable. She glanced at the other diner and hoped he would not leave before this man was finished.
The newcomer noticed the hesitation and slight panic in Sandy’s response and lowered his head once again. Now she saw his shoulders were shaking too. “Mister, are you not feeling well? I can phone someone for you if you like.”
He looked up, tears streaming down his cheeks. “There’s no one to phone. I … I’m okay. I’ll eat my supper and leave.”
She backed away. The other customer was finished and waiting at the till to pay. Sandy felt a twinge of panic at the thought of being alone with this stranger who had probably hitch-hiked into town. The short-order cook had gone on his break and wouldn’t be back for another twenty minutes or so. She made change and swallowed nervously as the man went out the door.
The lone customer at the counter had covered his face with his hands and none of his food had been touched. Before phoning for help she decided to approach him one more time. At first there was no response then slowly he lifted his head and ran a hand through his hair. Sandy saw his shirt collar was damp from tears. She touched his arm.
“Please, let me help you.”
“No one can help me.”
“What is it? What’s troubling you?”
He took a long, deep breath. “I was released from prison a couple of months ago. I can’t make it on my own and my money is running out. I want to go home but I don’t think I’ll be welcome.”
Sandy was overcome with compassion. “Where’s home?”
“I’m not even sure. It could be here but …” He looked forlornly toward the window. “You see, I disgraced my mother terribly. She had always been so proud of me and when I was arrested she strongly defended my innocence. Called everyone liars who said otherwise. When I was found guilty, she was a laughing stock to the family and the friends she had alienated. I’m told she moved away and made a new life for herself.”
“Where does she live now?”
“Here in Melville. I bet no one here even knows she has a son.”
“That’s where you’re heading now?”
“I was. I … I just don’t know.”
“What did you do that was so terrible?”
He was silent for so long she thought he wasn’t going to answer. “I got in with a crowd that was using drugs. I picked up the habit but managed to keep it from my mother. I had a good job, lived on my own and always made sure I was mellow around her. Long story short, I learned where an old guy in my apartment building hid his savings. I needed the money badly so I broke in and stole it. When the poor old guy found out his money was gone, he suffered a stroke and died a few weeks later.”
“How much time did you do?”
“Have you corresponded with your mother in that time or called her since you got out?”
“She didn’t answer my letters and then after she moved the mail was just returned. I wrote to a neighbour who told me in no uncertain terms how I had broken my mother’s heart. I … I was going to call Mom but I was afraid she’d only hang up. I thought I’d just go there, but now that I’m here, I don’t think I should bother her.”
Sandy’s mind was in a whirl. “What’s your name?”
Sandy nodded and smiled. “Well, Tom. My name is Sandy. As soon as the cook gets back I’ll drive you to your mother’s.
“You’d do that for me? What if she won’t talk to me?”
“What if she will?”
She heard the back door open and close. “Percy, I’m driving my friend here to his mother’s place. You’ll be okay for a half hour, right?”
Sandy grabbed her purse and ushered Tom and his backpack through the front door. His mother’s address was only a couple blocks from her own. As she pulled into the driveway, she touched his arm. “I’ll wait here till she let’s you in.”
“If she does.”
“She will. Trust me.”
Sandy watched as he approached the front door and lifted his hand to the doorbell, hesitating before pushing it. A woman in her mid-fifties opened the door. She stared at Tom before a look of disbelief crossed her face. After several tense seconds the woman opened her arms and embraced her son. Sandy watched through her own tears as they entered the house and closed the door.
The next afternoon Sandy was cleaning the counter when Tom and his mother entered the restaurant. Esther Dubois approached Sandy and wrapped her in a warm hug. “The good Lord sure knew what He was doing when He made you my friend.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew my mother?” Tom moved closer.
“The decision to go home had to be yours.”
“‘Go home’. Last night those words terrified me. Today they comfort me.”
“Your mother and I became friends shortly after she moved here. It was only recently she told me about you, how remorseful she was, and how she prayed to hold you again.”
Sandy watched as they crossed the street and got into Esther’s car. She smiled thinking about the fact that today was her last working day before retiring. She raised her eyes and shook her head. “Well, Lord, you sure cut that one close!”
Getting started – Lesson One:
Many people ask, “Where do your ideas come from? How do you get started? An easy way is to take a simple sentence and add some what-ifs.
For instance – One evening a woman asks her husband to go to the convenience store to get her some milk. A simple sentence. Nothing really interesting, nothing special. Rather boring. Now add a what if.
What if on his way to the store, he’s hit by a firetruck? What if as he’s entering the store he’s caught in the cross-fire of armed burglars? What if, when he returns home from the store his wife is gone and there are signs of a struggle? What if he checks his lottery ticket at the store and finds out he’s a multi- millionaire? What if he doesn’t go home? What if …? What if …?
Try your own simple sentence and add some what ifs or use this example. How far can you go? A sentence or two? A paragraph? A page? Have some fun.
I would love to see some of your examples. You can send them, or any questions, to me at [email protected]. I will answer you and I won’t share unless you want me to. Please remember I am available to meet in person with any groups who might like an hour or so of shared writing experiences.
For those who would like to print a .pdf copy to take away and read download it here.