Sun | Jul 23, 2017

The univited Guest

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 11:00 AMWilbert Tomlinson

The uninvited guest

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 Ö 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."

AUSPICIOUSENTRY

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 FORSUPERSTITIONS

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 Ö 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.