Thu | Apr 27, 2017

The uninvited guest

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 11:00 AM

Wilbert Tomlinson, Contributor

It was my daughter Juanita's seventh birthday. Family members and friends were assembled around our large dining table, which was beautifully decorated for the occasion.

My wife was three months pregnant with our second child, and as she is inclined to do on these occasions, she took complete control of all the big things - and all the small things. Everything had to be just right. My wife is the most orderly and precise person I know. She knows where to find everything in our house - even when the power company leaves us in complete darkness!

I tend to be more laid-back. After all, a man's home is his castle! She is an excellent cook who meticulously uses her many cookbooks to prepare the tastiest of meals. So on our daughter's birthday, you know everything had to be just right, and it was. She just loves to entertain. I, on the other hand, when it comes to cooking, am like someone who appreciates good music but can neither sing nor play a single instrument.

So, on occasions like these, I am quite happy to play the role of gofer. "Tommy, hurry and get me three bottles of non-alcoholic wine. You know Lilieth's husband is not supposed to have any alcohol." (I would buy six!). Or "Tommy, we need two more crates of soft drinks for the kids."

In short, she was in charge … and today, more so than usual!

FATE'S PLAN

If I got no "instructions", I knew that I should just keep out of the way and keep the guests happy until she asked me to do something. But little did I know, fate would conspire to put me completely "in charge" at exactly 5 p.m., that same afternoon.

It was now approaching that hour, and guests were still trickling in through the front door of our two-bedroom town house, which was left deliberately open. After all, this was Mandeville, and it was one of those afternoons when one could expect bright sunshine with natural 'air conditioning'.

I wanted to be a good host too, so I made sure I greeted all the guests and made them feel welcome. I made sure everyone was comfortably seated and properly introduced, where necessary. They all wanted to see the birthday girl, who did not disappoint when she came downstairs, regally attired.

"Juanita, what a way yuh grow!" and "Yuh look just like yuh mother!" were some of the comments.

Then I heard someone say "I hear yuh doin' well in school; you must have yuh mother's brains."

Then I remembered that old chauvinistic joke, and I was tempted to say, "Sure, right - because I still have mine," but marriage had taught me that that kind of joke was for single men only.

My private musings came to an abrupt end, when I heard Nova say, "Tommy, please say the grace and bless the cake."

AUSPICIOUS ENTRY

I immediately stood up, but before I could utter a word, suddenly, the uninvited guest entered the room with a big 'swoosh', followed by a strong rush of wind, sending all the paper cups, napkins, forks, paper plates, balloons and party decorations flying.

The guests also scampered in all directions. There were loud screams and silent screams. There were moans and groans. Mouths and eyes were frozen wide open! Hands and knees were shaking. Everyone was simply terrified.

While all this excitement was taking place, the uninvited guest having completed its sudden and very auspicious entry, calmly selected a chair at one end of the dining table, and sat down quietly. Then 'he' or 'she' slowly turned 'his' or 'her' head from side to side, and began to stare at each person in turn.

Someone bawled out "Lawd Gaad Almighty, pass me the white rum quick!"

I looked at my wife and noticed she had quietly retreated, with Juanita, deep into the safety of the kitchen.

Then I knew it. It was time for me to take charge.

No one else was seated around the birthday table except this uninvited guest that had suddenly entered and caused so much commotion. It was a fully grown white bird that had flown in with great speed through the open front door. Its unexpected entry had scared everyone stiff, and the furious flapping of its wings had created so much turbulence that the birthday table was now in complete disarray. But now, everything was quiet and calm again. It perched as confidently and as unconcerned, as you please, on the shoulder of the chair nearest to the cake.

It sat there as if to say, "A nuh nutten. Yuh done know seh yuh caan keep party and nuh invite mi."

It continued to look imperiously around the room.

Then I heard my wife's instructions echoing repeatedly in the back of my head. "Tommy, please say the grace and bless the cake." "Tommy, please say the grace and bless the cake." "Tommy, please say the grace and bless the cake."

I snapped out of
my surreality, stood up, cleared my throat twice and said softly,
"Ladies and gentlemen, please close your eyes and bow your heads." Every
one bowed their head but not a single person closed an eye! On second
thought, I decided I wasn't going to close my eyes either. Not now,
anyway, I had to keep an eye on this bird!

Since the
entry of my feathered friend and the time I stood up to say the grace,
no more than five minutes had passed, but it seemed like hours.

When I was a little boy in primary school, I was
taught to say a grace which started like this "Be present at our table,
Lord", but that was a long time ago, and I could not recall the other
lines. I decided to give a more formal welcome before the grace, and so I
welcomed and thanked each and everyone who had come to share in this
occasion, especially those who had come all the way from Kingston. I
said how happy my wife, Nova, and I were, to see them. Then my eyes fell
on the uninvited guest.

I was not sure I was happy to
see 'him' or 'her'.

NO TIME FOR
SUPERSTITIONS

Then I reprimanded myself, "Come on
Tommy, don't be superstitious, now! There are enough frightened and
superstitious persons looking at you, right now. Your wife, most of all,
is expecting you to take charge. You are the man of the house. Do not
let this opportunity pass for you to take charge. It may never come
again - at least, not for now!"

I cleared my throat
again and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this bird looks like a dove, and a
dove is a symbol of peace so we should not be afraid of this
bird."

I asked, "Isn't a dove a symbol of
peace?"

Someone answered: "Yes, symbol of peace."

Then I said, "If anything, it has brought a blessing
for all of us."

Someone else said: "Yes, a
blessing!"

Then I said for the second time: "Let's now
close our eyes and bow our heads."

This time everyone
did as I requested - except me. That bird was sitting just too close to
the cake!

"Heavenly Father, I thank You for our
family and for our friends. I thank You for allowing us to be present
this afternoon to celebrate Juanita's seventh birthday. We ask you to
bless this cake and this meal, that You have provided for us, and most
of all, we ask for Your continued guidance and protection in our lives.
Amen."

I always believed that long prayers before
meals defeated the purpose; moreover, under the circumstances, this
could not be a 'long grace'. Throughout that short prayer, I kept my
eyes on that bird and it kept looking at the cake. So after "Amen", we
all raised our heads and opened our eyes, and suddenly again, the bird
became the centre of attention.

All this time, it was
perched motionless on the same chair but was now taking tentative
steps, two to the left, and two to the right, then two to the left
again, but showed no sign of going anywhere.

Mark you,
it was not causing any trouble, we were simply disturbed by its
mystical presence. Then it occurred to me that as long as that bird was
there, normality would not prevail. I reminded myself that I was still
in charge, and as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on. So, I
beckoned to my wife, Nova, and whispered softly, "Please fix me a double
white rum, darling, with tap water and some
lime!"

She said loudly (much to my consternation):
"But, Tommy you know you can't drink white rum! You remember the last
time?"

I bit my lip and cut her off in mid-sentence,
saying to myself "she nu si sey a mi in charge now?" I said softly,
"Darling, never mind the last time. Can you please fix me a double white
rum with tap water and some lime!"

In two shakes of a
dove's tail, she handed me the drink. I emptied the glass in two large
gulps and walked over to the bird. "Yes," I said to myself, "this is how
it feels to be in charge!"

Now it's going to be
either "eggs or young ones"! I did not really know what to do or what
that meant, but I used to hear the boys at work use that expression when
faced with challenging situations. I moved towards the bird and
stretched out my left hand as if to touch its head … and much to my
surprise, it jumped up and landed on my left forearm, it steadied itself
for a moment, and then flew up on my left shoulder!

Then came shouts from all around the room: "Mine 'im
pick out you eye! Mine 'im pick out you eye!"

So I
held up my right arm and the bird descended on it. With the bird perched
on my right forearm, I walked around the room slowly coming as close as
I could to each person, some leaning forward to take a good look at it,
and the more superstitious ones leaning backwards to avoid it.

Wherever I went in the room the bird would simply not
separate itself from me. Strangely, I did not want to lose him either,
so I said to myself "I know what I will do. I will take him up to
Grandma."

Grandma was Juanita's grandmother and she
couldn't make it to the party. Before I left, I asked Nova to take some
pictures of me and the bird, because I wanted to tell this story and I
was afraid no one would ever believe me.

Well enough
was enough.

As the bird and I headed down the passage
towards the door, Juanita, clinging tightly to her mother's skirt, spoke
for the first time since the entry of the party
crasher.

"Where you going, Daddy?" Juanita
asked.

I said: "I will soon be back, dear. I am taking
this bird up to Grandma."

TRIP TO
GRANDMA'S

I walked slowly down the passage and went
through the front door of the apartment, opened my car door, sat down in
the car, started the engine and drove off with one hand on the steering
wheel and the bird still perched on my other hand.

I
drove to Grandma at a place called Dunrobin on the outskirts of
Mandeville, about three kilometres away from the party venue. On
arriving at Grandma's house, I got out of the car, with the bird still
perched motionless on my forearm, knocked on Grandma's door, and after a
hurried greeting, said "Grandma, this bird crashed Juanita's birthday
party, and I now have to get back to the party as quickly as possible. I
am scheduled to go to Florida tomorrow for a week, so I am asking you
kindly to keep it until I come back!"

With wide eyes
and furrowed brows, Grandma looked incredulously at the bird and then at
me. But sensing this was some kind of emergency, she motioned to me and
said that I should put it "in that box in the corner". I did as I was
told and said, "Grandma, thank you very much. When I come back I will
explain everything. Take care of it for me!"

Juanita
had a great fun-filled party and everyone soon forgot the uninvited
guest - everyone that is, except me.

So when I got
back from Florida, I went straight up to Grandma's house to see my bird.
I gave Grandma a present I had brought her, and then asked, "Grandma,
where is my bird?"

Grandma hung her head and looked at
me in silence.

"Son, the bird is not here. After you
left, I took it outside, released it, and it flew away!"

I was shocked.

I said, "Grandma,
you didn't!"

Grandma looked at me as grandmas do and
said: "Yes, I did, son. That was not a good bird, you
know."

ALL NOT LOST

I was
crestfallen. But the deed was done, and I was not going to argue with
Grandma. I chatted with Grandma for a while and on leaving, said to
myself, "All is not lost. At least several pictures were taken with that
bird at the party."

So, I drove straight to Universal
Photo Studio to collect the photos I had left there to be developed
before I left for Florida.

I was handed an envelope
with my name on it. I just couldn't wait to open the
envelope.

I asked, "How much do I owe you for these
prints?"

The attendant said
"Nothing".

I gasped, "Nothing? What do you mean
'Nothing'?"

"Look for yourself," she said. "None of
them came out"

I opened the envelope and examined each
frame and indeed there were no images on any of them. Then I remembered
Grandma's words. "That was not a good bird, you
know!"

I never thought that that bird was a 'bad'
bird. In fact, I thought that that bird was a good bird! At that point, I
became comfortable with the thought that maybe, like beauty, good or
bad is indeed in the eyes of the
beholder.