His real name was James, but we just knew him as Sinbad, like the pirate or the 90s personality. I couldn’t even tell you what his last name was. He was only ever his nickname.
We knew him on sight. He was over six-foot, broad shouldered, and bulky. To anyone but me, he looked intimidating as hell. I only saw him as a giant teddy bear. He gave great hugs and swung me through the air like a plane. He even braided my hair.
Sinbad came over to our house all the time, especially on Saturday cook-out days. He’d insist on grilling German sausages and hamburger patties for us while Mom would plate up both mustard and mayo potato salads, cole slaw, and buns. He’d bemoan the exclusion of collard greens, but he let it slide for the mustard potato salad. When the cooking and eating was over, Dad and he would talk. Sometimes in quiet voices, sometimes in another room at the other end of the house. Whatever they talked about usually meant Sinbad would be leaving not long after.
For weeks, we didn’t see him, though, and I asked Dad about him, about when he would be over next. But I received no answers. I was surprised, then, when one day Sinbad picked me up from my bus stop after school. He drove me home, and after I put my backpack in the house, he asked me to come sit on him on the porch. I sat down on his lap, and he asked me about school.
“Why are we on the porch?” I asked.
“Itsa game, ya see?” he told me. “A surprise for your dad.”
I giggled with him and played along. A few minutes later, Dad pulled into the carport. His usual tanned face was drained of color.
Sinbad picked me up and held me in his arms. Dad walked onto the porch. “Looky who’s here!” I said, looking at him.
Sinbad pulled me closer and stood up. Then he loosened his grip and lowered me to the ground. Dad swallowed and gave me a half smile; his eyes fixed on Sinbad.
“I see, Mel Belle,” Dad said. “Time to go do your homework, sweetheart.”
“Okay!” I said, giving Sinbad another hug before running into the house.
The screen door bounced a couple times as it closed and drowned out any words they were saying.
After that, we saw less of Sinbad, but I let Daddy know I missed him, all the time.