Dealing with Friendship

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.

11 thoughts on “Dealing with Friendship

    1. I know. It’s bizarre. There were probably a lot of good people I met and knew as a child, but it’s the bad ones that stick with me the most. Still, even as an adult, I have conflicting emotions towards this one.

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  1. Yikes, Mel! What a lucky escape (escape isn’t the right word, but maybe avoidance of what could have been). I’m glad your Dad was on the ball about Sinbad.

    You did a really good job of building the tension in describing Sinbad picking you up from the bus stop and sitting on the porch with you. The interaction between Sinbad and your Dad was also clear, and contained in the subtext — in what was not said.

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      1. This is so true. We don’t see the threat necessarily as kids. You did such a nice job of showing that too — how you felt there was something off between him and your father, but you didn’t pick up on what (we all know) must have passed between them. You also did really well to tuck that little nugget of your father taking him aside when he visited to have long chats with him. That was an easy point to miss initially, but in context of the ending, it takes on a whole new importance.

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  2. That took a left turn I didn’t expect. I liked how you kept the perspective from the child perspective. There was innocence there but all that menace under the surface of things that couldn’t be interpreted like why Sinbad and Dad would often talk privately and Sinbad would leave soon after, or why he disappeared suddenly, or really what was going on with the threat. It leaves the reader with a lot of unease.

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    1. Thanks, Tara! I’m glad the perspective worked. In actual fact, even now, I have no idea what role he played in our lives. I don’t know if he leant us money, if he was a drug dealer, or something far less nefarious. But the brazen threat, that message may have been lost on little Mel, but not adult Mel. Still, Dad never told me not to trust him, as he did with other people in our lives, so it’s hard to know what the deal was.

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  3. From reading the comments, I now know that you still don’t really know what was happening with Sinbad. But as far as the story went, it really worked to have the unnamed menace. Contrasting it with the innocence of the cookouts struck me – even before getting to the whispers, the cookouts felt overly jovial and set up the rest of the piece nicely.

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