Another 24 Hour Short Story Contest has come and gone. And the outcome? What I again think is one of finest short stories/flash fictions yet. How do I know? Well, even Melanie thinks it’s pretty good. And she’s a bigger critic than I am of myself! So here it is.
Father Somani strolled down the busy Chicago sidewalk. Services were over. Though he lived some ten miles away, and though the spring wind was brisk, the walk cleansed him of the week’s happenings, allowing him to pull together his thoughts and find his inner peace.
Then he saw her.
He knew it was her because of the scent that followed as she passed against him. It was the scent of mango and something else he could never put his finger on. He had not seen her in twenty-five years, but he was certain. Nowhere else had mango and that hint of perfection tickled his nose quite like this.
“Miss,” he called out.
His voice was eaten up by traffic and droves of pedestrians in the loud Chicago streets.
He did not even know her name.
He picked up his pace, determined not to lose her after these many years.
He was twelve. He sat under a cottonwood, reading his bible as he always did during recesses. A shadow appeared overhead, pulling him from his studies. He looked up but only saw a silhouette. A hint of fruit and a smell he could only describe to himself as love filled him.
As she sat down beside him, the scent grew stronger. He took in the beauty, and the wonderful aroma, of the girl smiling back at him. Her emerald green eyes sucked his soul into them. Her hair was so blond as to be nearly silvery. Her shirt was just tight enough to suggest that she was one of the first in their grade to begin budding into womanhood. She sat cross-legged watching him then looked down at his leather-bound bible. She reached over and held his hand.
Her skin was so tender, so warm, his whole body loosened. They stared at each other for a time. Then she seemed to prod him to continue reading. He did. His hand remained in hers. Occasionally he looked up at her. Reading his bible seemed to enthrall and brighten her smile a little more each time he peered over at her.
That was the first and only time he had seen her.
As he managed to get within mere arm-lengths, the bustling crowds not giving in between them, a voice cried out, “Sir.”
He looked about while trying to keep his focus on the woman ahead of him.
A short woman stood beside him, years of abandonment and streets buried in her pores.
“Yes,” he said, returning his attention to the woman of his dreams.
“A minute of your time?”
He breathed in, his heart racing from the long since lost scent lingering.
“Please,” he begged. Without looking, he pulled what money he carried, which was a lot, from his billfold and handed it to the woman.
He took off running again.
The mango made its way into his bones and warmed a part of him that had not warmed in as long as he could remember. A light turned red, giving him the break he needed and stopping the woman of his dreams from crossing another street.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Father Somani closed his eyes and took a deep breath, “Slow to anger,” he repeated to himself.
“Just a minute,” the same voice came from behind.
“I beg you. I’m in a terrible hurry.”
Stepping to the curb, finally side by side, his heart stopped. He introduced himself by name. The woman of his dreams did the same. She smiled when he asked her to coffee.
They sat on the terrace of a tiny coffee shop by the water. He talked as if he did not know her. She needed to fall in love him as he had her, naturally. Up close, her beauty overtook him in ways even his deepest fantasies of the last two decades had not. Her eyes mesmerized him. Her womanly features beckoned for attention. He tried to lose himself in her eyes as he had back then.
“You look familiar,” he finally mentioned.
“Do I now,” her smile curling in just that way he expected, before it faded. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“There’s nothing you could tell me that could ruin this moment.” The smell of mango reentered his senses and he melted all over again.
“I’m a single mother.”
His lips cracked a grimace. She handed him a photo of her little girl.
He swallowed hard, “She’s beautiful. She has her mother’s eyes.”
“Sir,” another voice said. “Excuse me.”
The voice asked again before Father Somani realized he was who the voice spoke to.
“Oh, Heaven sake.”
“Who is it,” his love asked.
“Nobody.” He turned to the homeless woman. “Stop bothering me. I gave you everything I had. What more do you want?”
The woman in tattered clothes and hair like a mutt padding over from a dirty river finally looked up at him. Her emerald green eyes grabbed him by the throat, steeling his entire body.
“Only to know, you’re not the man I thought you were.”
She sighed, turned, and was never seen again.