My Only Best Friend
Short story by Marie-Helene Carr
He lives in a house that must be twice his age. Each wooden plank that keeps it together leads a lively courageous fight against wind and rain to stay straight. The stairs leading to the balcony resemble a stack of wood, held together by nature’s kindness, each step with its own destiny.
On the balcony, the elderly man is smoothly sailing on his rocking chair savoring his pipe. He is part of the daily scenery on my path during my walk returning from school. He is always smiling at me…. maybe because I remind his of his youth.
This time, to break the monotony of the smiles that we were exchanging, I decided to go and greet him. My timid 10-year-old way of being was put to the test, but I concluded I had nothing to lose. I decided he looked like someone who was sitting on a pile of mysterious stories and I got very curious.
As soon as I said “Hi” his face lightened up and an accordion of fine wrinkles lined up on his face.
“Hi, what is your name?”
“My name in Benjamin but my friends call me Ben” .
“They call me Grandpa”.
From then on, the sparkle of a friendship ignited. Time brought along what I felt was like a knitted blanket of stories of the time when he was a sailor and by then, I was stopping every day after school to wrap myself in yet another one of his adventures. I loved the way he was taking me along for the ride every time and I never cared to inquire whether they were true or not. I just knew it felt nice and cozy in that blanket of imagination. To me, his black eyes were blue under so many stories on the sea. Before going to sleep, I visualized the end of the stories before he could recount.
Arriving home, I was usually greeted by my worried mom who questioned what mischiefs I was up to after school and why I was being so late. She heard so much about him and his stories, she even wondered if I was not stretching my imagination a little beyond. One day she threatened to send the gardener to fetch me every day after school. OH God…. please no!
I decided I needed a plan to prove that this friendship was no fiction and neither were the stories. Reality is that I was not making many friends at school and realized he was the only and best one I had. I pleaded with mom to invite him for supper one day so she could meet him. I was on top of the moon when she said yes.
The day came and Good Old Grand Pa and I were excitedly making our way to my house. As we were walking towards the entrance, mom had been standing by the door watching us and before we reached her she said disapprovingly: “Ben, why do you bring black folks here, and where is your friend?” I suddenly realized I never mentioned skin color or age because they were so unimportant to me. A friend is a friend. Grand Pa did not dare to speak and turned around quickly to head out. I followed him right along. It felt to me, even with my artificial leg, if we would have been able to run, we could not have gotten away fast enough.
Marie-Helene Carr is a Settlement Counsellor with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO)