« 42 - The Burnopfield Basher | Main | Hitler Begs »

Here In Africa: A Tall Story

...“Why’ve you been walking?”

“Well, it’s like this. I’m looking for my son. I’m sure he’s out there somewhere and if I keep on looking, I’m know I’ll find him....

Barbara Durlacher’s story tells of a chance meeting in an all-night diner.

The man in a neat blue business suit and a felt Fedora hat took his seat at the counter of the All Night Diner next to the blonde in the red dress. The counter-clerk, thin face drawn and tired, paused in his continuing cleaning to get his order.

“Strong hot coffee and a cinnamon bun” replied the man to his query as he settled down. Turning to the woman in the red dress, he offered her a Camel cigarette before taking one himself. Lighting up, the pair exhaled. He turned to speak.

“Do you come here often?” He was the first to voice his question, while the same words died unuttered on her lips as she smiled and nodded assent.

“Coffee?” he asked questioningly, turning to her with a pleasant smile, cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth. Drawing the sugar towards him, he squinted uncomfortably through the rising smoke.

“Yes, make it a small one – I’ve had too many tonight. I’ll never sleep and it gives me indigestion.”

“Well, whaddya know?” he asked her, to prolong the conversation.

“Not much. I come here most nights before I go to bed. Joe and I are old friends, aren’t we Joe?” she queried with a lipsticked smile in his direction. “I usually have an early breakfast of bacon and eggs before I go to bed. Saves time in the morning and no dishes to wash before I go to work.”

“Yeh”, he agreed sipping his coffee, the cigarette held negligently in his left hand, ash dropping onto his cinnamon bun. “I come here most evenings as well. Strange we haven’t seen one another before, but then it’s a big city and people come and go. One can never be sure if you’ll see the same person twice, isn’t that so?” came his pleasant reply.

“Why don’t we take our cups over to the window table and rest our legs? Don’t know about you, but mine are tired from walking the streets most of the day.”

“Why’ve you been walking?”

“Well, it’s like this. I’m looking for my son. I’m sure he’s out there somewhere and if I keep on looking, I’m know I’ll find him. My wife left me when he was only three and I brought him up on my own. We bonded very closely and I feel his presence very strongly when he needs me. In the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling the presence again and again, more and more strongly. I just know he’s out there, needing me.”

“Tell me more. I’m fascinated, although it’s all rather creepy. Do you really think he’s somewhere in this city?”

“Yes, I’m sure of it, and although there may be practical explanations, I’m determined to keep on looking. I know he needs me and is willing me to come to him.”

“You’re not bored are you; want me to go on?” breaking off his recital and cocking his head in her direction. Receiving her enthusiastic reassurance, he continued.

“When he reached his teens, he became very interested in airplanes and as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Air Force. Course, it was easy then. It was 1945, and there was a war on. We were still fighting the Japanese and the military needed every man they could get. Then one day, I got a letter from him. He didn’t say much, but mentioned he’d been selected to fly a top secret mission. He was terribly proud and couldn’t wait for the promised day to arrive. Soon after that his letters stopped, and I never heard from him again. Naturally, after a few months I made enquiries, but for a long time I came up against a wall of officialdom. The Air Force would tell me nothing. Then months later, after the war had finished, I got a letter from his commanding officer.”

“He said my son had been a member of one of the bomber crews in the planes that had bombed a top secret target on the Japanese mainland. They had enough fuel to get them to their target and back if their navigation was 100% accurate. Otherwise they didn’t stand a chance. He couldn’t tell me anything more, but hand written at the end came the words “they were escorting a plane on a vitally important mission which was expected to bring the Second World War to an end. This may be some consolation for you for the loss of your very brave son.”

“But you see, I’m certain that he’s still alive somewhere. I know he’s calling me to come to him, and if I keep on walking I’ll find him one day.”

He swallowed the last of his coffee; picked up his grey Fedora, buttoned his double-breasted jacket and shot his cuffs, and smiling his sad smile he slipped away into the darkness. His departure left a lingering feeling of loss and for anyone with a sense of changing styles, the realisation that his clothes were the height of men’s fashion nearly fifty years ago.

“Joe, Joe, come over here quickly,” the blonde in the red dress called, rubbing the goose-pimples on her upper arms and shivering despite the warmth and humidity of the All Nite Diner.

“Have you seen that man before?” she questioned when he ambled over, greasy dishcloth in hand.

“Nah, never clapped eyes on him.”

“Well, that confirms what I suspected. The man’s a complete fake. Him and his tall stories! Must take me for a fool! Giving me all that guff. Bombing the Japanese mainland. I ask you!” and gathering up her handbag and jacket, she waggled her fingers with their varnished nails in his direction, and ambled away to her usual corner, to smile her winning smile on the next man who came along.


This story was inspired by the painting “Nighthawks” by the American artist, Edward Hopper.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.