The story I want to tell starts with a rhythmic knock, once, twice, three times…a fourth? My family sat around the table waiting for the rhythm to continue–after all–we were a collection of musicians: always seizing the opportunity to grasp any form of the bump and thump of the thing we called life. Eventually, after sitting there for a few moments, my father got up and took heavy-set steps to the door and put his eye up to the peephole. A confused look spread across his aging face.
“No one’s there.”
I got up to check for myself. My parents caught each other’s eyes. I assumed it was one of those “things” that all adults did: specifically parents. When I reached the door, I stood next to my father. I was nearly half a foot taller than he was now; this was after he had multiple back surgeries though. “I would be taller than you if it wasn’t for old age,” He always claimed with a sad shrug that was accompanied by a similar smile.
I turned to the door and gripped the doorknob, just as confused as the other two members of the household. As the door swung open, I looked at the figure from the bottom up, their crisp white Jordans looked…oddly familiar. Their jeans, ripped in the…left knee only–a design I knew too well. The figure’s orange blazer matched my own that hung lonely in my closet. It was embroidered with a tiger claw on the back – my elementary school’s mascot. I hadn’t worn that jacket since fourth grade. That’s when he moved aw- no, it can’t be. My eyes continued their scan when they reached the person’s face–their features were identical to the friend I had known all throughout elementary school. His messy dreadlocks that never seemed to stop growing were now transformed into a neat afro. He had grown up though; I couldn’t place my finger on exactly what had changed but he had gotten older, more mature, without even saying a word yet.
“Long time no see?” I said awkwardly.
My mother gave me a confused look and broke my examinations to remind me that the cake and its eighteen candles were sitting on the table, almost daring someone to blow them out.
“Who is it?” she added.
I opened the door even more so she could see, but when she looked even more confused and glanced at my father again, I turned back to my friend.
“I hoped I wasn’t late–I was back in town and thought I’d stop by.”His voice was deeper, of course, yet it had a hint of the kid he used to be–playful and free. He grinned at me as he walked through the doorway, ducking to make sure he didn’t bump his afro on the doorframe.
“Wow, you’ve grown so much, man. What have you been up to?”
The words felt like an exotic fruit I’d never even heard the name of–since when did I talk like my grandparents?
“My family and I moved away, you know that. I graduate high school this spring–never thought I’d be saying that,” he said with a chuckle.
As we sat down, forks, napkins, and glasses of milk were set down in front of me but for whatever reason my mother didn’t lay anything down for him.
“Blow out your candles–I didn’t come all this way to sit and stare at a cake I’d much rather be eating.”
I thought about my wish as both parents pulled out their phones to take videos and harmonized their own rendition of “Happy Birthday.” As they sang, my mind was blank until I remembered how much my friend had grown up–his voice, his smile, even his hair (my own hadn’t changed since 4th grade). I wanted to grow up; I wanted people to have those same thoughts about me, even if it was my grandparents saying the same thing they always do. As they completed the chorus I turned to my friend who was engulfed by the stunning melody that was my parents harmonizing. The look of awe on his face was new as well. He had always been such a confident…and stubborn person; now he was–a whole new person. The room had gone silent while I was deep in thought and when I realized it, I smiled sheepishly and took a breath. My wish was the only thing in mind as I blew out the candles and I truly did feel something shift in the room. I smiled at my parents as they clapped and cheered like I had won an award. I figured I would have heard something from my friend by now but when I turned to him, his chair was empty. My parents must have seen the look of concern on my face because they asked what was wrong.
“Where did he go?”
They shared yet another look then shrugged at each other.
“Where did who go?”
I shook my head and got out of my chair. I continued down the hallway leading to the front door, which was closed. I peered out the window and no one was walking the barren streets. He was gone. Why?
I pondered this for a long time after I became an adult, where had he gone? Why had he left? It wasn’t until many years later that I understood what had happened to my friend: I had gotten my wish: to grow up; my imaginary friend was gone.
Posted in response to the challenge Imaginary.