I don’t remember why we both felt so dark, deflated, useless, worse than alone. Michael and I dragged ourselves to our Portland neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant as though to our last meal together; after that, curtains.
We both pretended to read our menus, even though we always ordered the same things and knew the numbers by heart. Maybe we were trying to stretch out our time together. Or maybe we just couldn’t order yet, with those lumps in our throats. Anyway, I wasn’t sure I could eat.
An Asian family came in, and sat at the next table, behind Michael. They were all dressed-up; even the little boy was in a suit, with a bow-tie. He stared at me, smiling. I hope I smiled back, but I’m not sure if I pulled it off.
Without taking his eyes off me, or saying anything to his parents (who seemed to be unaware of his presence), he got up and came to us. I would guess he was five, six at most, and he was barely taller than the table.
“Knock, knock,”* he said, beaming his silly grin.
“Who’s there?” I answered.
“There’s a banana on my sandwich!”
We were more astonished than amused, but apparently he took our expressions as encouragement.
“Knock, knock,” he continued.
“Who’s there?” Michael answered, this time.
“A polar bear ate the banana!”
This time he couldn’t help but laugh at his own joke. We laughed too.
“Knock, knock,” he exulted, for his encore.
“Who’s there?” we both answered.
“Really, aren’t you glad?”
“Yes! Good one!” we cheered. And we kept laughing, till there were tears in our eyes.
He took several bows as we laughed, then he returned to his parents’ table. They didn’t look up, never seemed to notice him at all.
Michael and I looked directly at each other for the first time in many hours. We both knew it: The storm clouds had lifted, and the sun was out again. When our food came, we enjoyed it.
Over the years since then, Michael and I have reminded each other of that little comedian, and one of us will always say, “He rescued us; it’s like he was an angel.” I’ve also thought, sometimes, that maybe he had learned to play that role for his parents, to tell them jokes when they seemed not to notice him, or each other. I don’t know who he was, or how we got so lucky as to have him come to our rescue. And I don’t know if, that night, we showed him the appreciation he deserved.
*I don’t remember the actual “jokes” he told us, but they were definitely as lame as these of a six year old I found on youtube.
** This is a file photo from the internet.