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An Occasional Friend
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The puzzle arranged around the table was almost finished.
Pedro held a piece in his hand while waiting for Tulio to come back from the bathroom.
He wasn't in the habit of inviting people to his house because the rules are quite rigorous and children are not allowed to play in the living room.
However, he likes it.
He had arranged everything in secret with his teacher and they've been living there for eight years, the place is simple but comfortable.
After some time Tulio returned and asked "Is it common to miss someone you don't know?"
As he asked the question Tulio added a piece to the puzzle.
On the table was the image of many wolves deep in the snow while crossing a field.
It is a cold place, different from the heat in the city.
"Who are you talking about?" Pedro asked.
"The man in the picture in the hallway," Tulio said.
"I wish I had a father like yours."
In the picture the man holds a trophy and smiles with the conviction of someone who has the answer for everything.
It is a tranquil, quiet face.
The man in the photo was wearing a hat and is different from everyone he has ever known.
Pedro is perplexed with his friend's impression but tries to disguise it; nobody had ever wished to take possession of his father before.
"Despite what my father did, I miss him," Tulio affirms.
"But what happened?" Pedro asked, "Is he away?"
"Nobody knows, but soon he will come back again."
It is not an easy conversation but Pedro realised that his friend wanted to talk.
Ever since he arrived he has been searching for words, a bit lost.
He remembered his teacher making a request; that he should be more thoughtful with his friend, "You don't know each other very well," she said, "he is going through a lot of emotional challenges and needs some company."
So he invited Tulio to spend the afternoon in his house.
It was the first time that he had noticed Tulio's sadness; his mother understood the circumstances though.
"My father is not always nice," Pedro said quietly.
"Do you spend a lot of time together?" Tulio asked, curious.
"Just the normal." Pedro replied.
Tulio didn't know what was normal. He was distracted ever since his father had left the house, his attention wavered in the classroom and he couldn't concentrate for long.
The teacher explained to him that he is going through an emotional crisis and distraction is natural.
"Are we friends?" Pedro asked.
"I don't know, are we?" Tulio answered, "I think so."
Tulio liked to assemble puzzles, and for that reason accepted the invitation to spend the afternoon in Pedro's house.
Now that he is there he feels absent, despite his friend's attempt to please him.
In school he avoids mentioning his parents' crisis, he doesn't even know if he wants to know the truth.
The problem only affects his family, but everyone feels that they have the right to interpret the matter as they think.
"Do you think your father will come back?" Pedro asked.
"I don't know, my mother says some things never return."
"Did they fight a lot?"
Pedro realises that Tulio is upset by the direction of the conversation and decides not to ask any more questions.
When Pedro's family revealed to him the secret of his birth he also felt like an orphan and lost, for a long time spoke with a therapist about the subject.
In the end the anger went away.
"Did you know that I am adopted?" Pedro asked.
"Without a mother or father?" Tulio replied.
"I have a mother and father Tulio." Pedro corrected him.
Tulio finds a piece of the wolf's nose.
"But who are your real parents?" Tulio insists.
"I don't know."
"I prefer not to know the whole truth."
"So do I."
His mother came into the living room and asked them if they need anything. Pedro said "No thank you."
"Is everything OK, Tulio?" she asked.
"Yes," Tulio said, avoiding her gaze.
Pedro's mother was preparing food in the kitchen, the oven is turned on.
"It smells like mozzarella," Tulio said hungrily.
In the kitchen the tiles were brown with traces of beige, the fridge is bathed in sunlight, it is an antique and its sounds fill the whole house.
Pedro made two sandwiches and took them into the living room.
His mother was talking with the contractors who are renovating the house.
Once in a while she smiles, blond with fair skin, she likes a yoga session at the end of the day.
"I'm afraid of being like my father," Tulio says.
"How is your father?" Pedro asks.
"You wouldn't understand," Tulio replies.
The silence is taught and leaves the boy with watery eyes.
As soon as he finished eating he recalled the potato salad that his father made to take to work. It tasted like mustard and pepper, an adult's seasoning.
"I love to snack in the afternoon," Tulio says. "It is good, thank you."
Pedro wants to tell Tulio that when he found out that he was adopted, he become upset and with a lot of doubts, as if his real parents were terrible people, as if his future was already predestined.
"I want to show you a place," Pedro said, "it is nearby."
Unnoticed they leave through the back door and walk into the yard.
There is an unfaithful character in a soap opera that is always in conflict with his family, like in his friend's house.
Soon they reach his secret spot, the tree house.
As they climb to the top they almost stumble on a nest where little seagulls are coming out of their shells.
Suddenly the wind brushes their heads as a big bird, flying low, protects its offspring.
"Gee, that was close," Tulio exclaims.
Close together in the nest the birds move with difficulty, all very red and shaking. The boys felt as though they had invaded someone's house.
"Do you spend a lot of time here?"
"It is my hideout."
Besides toys, there are many boxes of puzzles there.
Before he finishes showing his friend everything his mother calls, saying it is time to come inside.
When Tulio goes back to his house and finds the living room empty, the video game discarded on the floor, he misses Pedro.
The maid organizes everything except his stuff; for she knows he doesn't like people touching them.
"Are you back already?" his mother asks.
"Did you miss me?"
"Of course I did."
"What about father?"
Sitting in the rocking chair, his mother is knitting a blue scarf.
She doesn't go to work but participates in social events.
When they are together, without his father's presence, he wants to protect her, but he doesn't know what to say.
"Did you know that Pedro is adopted?"
"I didn't know, but I know his mother."
"She is not his real mother."
"Of course she is Tulio, she raised him."
"My father is not a real father either."
His mother could say something, explain why his father found another woman, but instead, she continued knitting.
Tulio expected an explanation, his father back with all the answers, like the picture in Pedro's house.
He went back to his room and called his friend.
On the other end of the line, they are slow to pick it up.
Finally a man answers the phone rudely, explains his son is busy and can't talk, and hangs up.
Minutes later Pedro calls back.
"I'm sorry, my father doesn't like it when dinner is interrupted."
In the background there is a lot of noise and some type of discussion.
His father's voice isn't anything like the man smiling in the picture.
Pedro explains his father is angry because of the delay in the house's renovation.
Tulio recalls the house on the top of the tree and imagines spending a night there.
"Are you going to sleep with the little birds?" Tulio asks.
"I don't want to be attacked by the mother," Pedro laughs.
"Can you send me a picture of the babies?" Tulio asks.
After he hangs up the phone Tulio feels better, forgetting his father's complicated life.
Through his window he imagines the park and the tree house.
The children's playground is empty.
Nobody knows how long it will take before the little birds learn how to fly. There will be many attempts before they can aim high.
Like him, the little birds need to learn different ways to survive.
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