A SHORT STORY BY BERNARD SINAI
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
THE BRIGHT RED AND ORANGE backdrop created by the setting sun blended graciously with the blue sky and looked beautiful. Tom smiled, but only for a moment. As the sun started to disappear so did her warm embrace, he started to feel the pinch of the chilly breeze as night set in.
He sat on the bench park and looked out toward the city lights, longing for warmth and companionship. Cold Park was a cold place, which was a blessing in disguise for him; there was no one else there to harass or disturb him. None of the other homeless people liked to sleep there.
He reached into his haversack, and pulled out a blanket, one of his most prized possessions – one of his only possessions. He covered himself and started singing an old Motuan tune, one he had heard as a boy somewhere in the city. It started a flood of memories from his past, when there was always a hot meal, where laughter filled the air, of bygone days that now seemed but a figment of his imagination.
“Excuse me natuna,” a raspy voice interrupted his thoughts, “may I share this bench with you?” Tom looked up and saw an old man, neatly dressed with a tired looking face. The old man had grey hair, and looked strong and healthy, but there was weariness in his eyes. It revealed the long and hard years he had endured, and the deep desire for repose.
He stood tall with a straight posture, almost a regal poise, and his manner symbolized a well-to-do lifestyle. It was a strange sight to Tom, most of the people living in the streets and parks were dirty, and wore three or four layers of clothing – he had only one.
Tom smiled and moved to one side of the bench, making space for the old man. “Thank you, natuna”, the old man said as he sat down, giving Tom a warm appreciative smile.
But the cold came with full ferocity, biting at everything that it would touch; even the air became hard to breathe. The old man curled up and tried vainly to cover himself with his coat. But the cold invaded every available space, occupying the air between his body and the coat lining; the park was living up to its name.
The old man started to shiver. Tom reached into his haversack and pulled out an old army coat and a Mars chocolate bar, one that had been given by the Salvos. He took his blanket and offered it to the old man.
“It’s cold, my son.” The old man protested, “You will catch a cold.” Tom shrugged his shoulders. “Bada, you need it more, and besides I’ve got a thick coat” he replied, tugging on his coat collar.
He broke the chocolate in half and shared it with the old man. Then he proceeded to light a fire with twigs and branches amassed earlier. The park was his kitchen, his bedroom, his bathroom – his home – and though it was cold, he was thankful. It was more peaceful compared with other spots in the city. It was ironic, he thought, some of the warmest parts of the city could be the coldest places on Earth.
As the fire kindled, its warmth came as a welcome relief. Tom signalled the old man near. The old man sat beside the fire and started warming his hands. Tom looked up and smiled, but there were tears in the old man’s eyes. “Is everything alright?”
Tom asked, but the old man smiled and said nothing.
Tom did not pursue it any further. Though he was curious, he knew when to respect a man’s privacy. He lay beside the fire and was soon dreaming of things that he would never have.
As the first ray of light seeped through the cracks of dawn, Tom felt a gentle shove on his shoulders. “I’m sorry to disturb you but before I leave I would like to thank you, Mr…?” the old man’s voice trailed off seeking an answer.
“Tom Kuti, sir” Tom mumbled half opening his eyes then closing them again. The old man placed the blanket beside him. Tom opened one eye and then closed it again. “Please keep the blanket, bada.”
There were a few seconds of silence then the old man thanked Tom again and tucked the blanket neatly under his left arm. The old man walked away, as silently as he had arrived.
Three weeks later as Tom was preparing to sleep a policeman came by. “Tom Kuti of Cold Park!’ he bellowed in an intimidating authoritarian tone. Tom quivered. “Yes, officer” he answered in a slightly trembling voice. “Come with me, you are wanted at the station” the officer ordered.
Ten minutes later Tom arrived at the station with the policeman where a man was waiting for him. The man was short and very portly, and somewhat resembled an oversized egg, like Humpty Dumpty. He had a cleanly shaven face with a neat moustache like Clark Gable and a nose that might have been stolen from Julius Caesar. But his hair seemed to have too much gel; it looked like someone had poured engine oil all over his head.
The short man introduced himself as James Kurumambu, a lawyer. “Have you heard the name Harold Fugu?” he asked. Tom’s face went blank. “He owns the largest hotel empire in the Pacific, Fugu Hotels. He died yesterday…and apparently left everything to you in his will.”
“Th – th – there must be a mistake.” Tom managed to utter. His mind was in chaos.
“There is no mistake” the lawyer retorted. “Now if you will just sign here”, he said pointing to a dotted line in some sort of document, “a limousine will take you to your hotel penthouse where you can rest until tomorrow.”
“What – what happens tomorrow?” Tom inquired, still stunned.
“You meet the world, Mr Kuti, you meet the world,” the short man answered.
Tom looked around suspiciously, it must be one of those reality TV shows with hidden cameras – it was a joke, he thought. “Well, I’ll just play along for the fun of it” he muttered under his breath as he signed the document.
“Oh, I almost forgot. There is something else” the short lawyer said and reached into the left pocket of his coat. He took out a Christmas card and gave it to Tom. Tom opened the card and for the first time understood what was happening.
The card read, Dear Tom, Thank you for the blanket and chocolate. It was signed, Your cold friend.