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A House of Strangers
by D.I. Telbat
I remember the afternoon my grandfather returned to Alimony, Wyoming. He’d been gone for fifty-six years, so I’d never met him. More than once, rumors of his death had reached us, but they were later proven false. My father had been born in the Amazon region where Grandpa was a missionary, but Dad hadn’t wanted to stay in the bush with the natives, insects, and rain forests. At age sixteen, he’d come back to the States, later met Mom, then had me.
So, after fifty-six years, an old man walked up Tuesday Avenue The neighborhood paused for a few seconds to gaze at the bowed frame shuffling past each house. I was one of those who paused. While mowing my parents’ lawn, I noticed there was something both familiar yet foreign about the old man.
He looked weathered and he carried a small leather case. Across the street, the Sumners pointed at the stranger. Knowing them like I did, I figured they were criticizing his outdated, wrinkled clothing and scuffed shoes.
When the man angled toward our house, I shut off the mower and stepped onto the rock walkway.
“Can I help you?” I smiled and waved, aware that the Sumners were watching. Secretly, I was amused at their reaction as I welcomed this vagrant to the neighborhood. “My parents aren’t home right now. Are you here to see them?”
“The Hiltons, right?” He looked keenly into my eyes. “Could I bother you for a glass of water?”
“Sure.” I chuckled, wishing I could hear what the Sumners had to say as I opened the front door for the visitor. “How do you know my parents?”
“I used to live on this street, but that was long before you were born.” He moved slowly across the welcome mat, and touched the wooden door frame as if he remembered it differently. “Where are the Hiltons? It’s Sunday, isn’t it?”
“Dad’s out golfing. Mom’s at the gym.” I closed the door and watched him move into the living room like he knew where he was going. When he stopped at the mantle, he looked at a particular old photo of my father. “You’re Grandpa Elliot, aren’t you?”
He moved from the mantle to my parents’ liquor cabinet. I avoided his eyes when he looked at me. Grandpa Elliot, if that’s who he was, would never have allowed hard liquor in the house. Embarrassment warmed my neck.
Next, he stood before the massive flat screen TV and browsed the movie selection my parents had subscribed to. The titles and ratings made me blush.
At the bookshelf, Grandpa brushed dust off the only Bible present, and at the waste basket, he plucked out a discarded stack of lottery tickets. After a few moments, he crumpled the tickets in his fist and dropped them back into the basket. I braced myself for a reprimand as he faced me. Though he was old and his frame bent, to me he seemed like a giant whose gaze I could barely meet.
“How can I be expected to return to live like this?”
“We, uh . . . I don’t think we were expecting you to return at all.”
“Then you’re probably not expecting Christ to return, either.” He looked over my shoulder. I imagined he noticed my mother’s most recent collection of framed glamour magazine covers. “You’re Chris, aren’t you? Years ago, you wrote to me. You remember your letter?”
“You said you were going to Bible College, then you were coming to the mission field to join me. What happened?”
“I did. I mean, I went to Bible College and just graduated. I’ve been back home for three days.”
“Huh. I thought more time had passed.” Grandpa touched his cheek in thought, like he’d lost track of time while he was in the rain forest. “Well? What earthly investments hold you back now?”
“None.” I smiled. “My passport’s in my room, and my bags are already packed. I was flying out in the morning, whether you were still alive or not.”
Grandpa sighed with seeming relief and stepped back.
“I have traveled for two days, son, but I can’t stay here another minute. Do you understand why?”
Bowing my head, I nodded and closed my eyes for a few seconds. In an instant, I mentally saw all that Grandpa had just seen in the home of a family he no longer knew. This man had come from a pagan land where tribes knew only isolation, violence, and superstition. But he’d come to a land where the Creator had been cast carelessly aside for things of the world and pleasures of the flesh.
When I looked up, Grandpa was heading to the front door. I wrote a quick note to my folks, then gathered my car keys and bags, and left the house. Grandpa climbed into the passenger seat as I approached my car.
Though I understood why we had to leave, it was exhilarating to finally see my dreams of joining Grandpa in God’s work come to fruition.
Without looking back, we drove away.
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COMING UP: You may enjoy this page from D.I. Telbat’s Writer’s Tablet, “Flawed Characters and Faithful Christians.” And in the following post, David shares his interview with COIL Character Chloe Azmaveth! 😉