The Joy of a Friend who Returns


John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
Hapdorn 5A03F

13 Tenthmonth 459A

Dear Ken,

It is amazing how much you can miss a person, even when you don’t think you have an emotional attachment.

Take Panu, for example. He’s one of the first Thorgelfaynese friends I had when I first arrived on this planet. It took me a long time to realize that he was really my friend, and not just thrilled to be associated with an alien from another planet. I invited him to the party I gave for Melissa, when she first came here as a tourist; I believe I told you about that. Since then, we’ve done a lot of things: like the time we planted the five-star tree in the back yard; and the time he forced me to participate in my first-ever sleep-out night. I resisted it at first, as you know; but in retrospect I wouldn’t surrender that experience for anything! Panu was also involved in that very confusing week when everyone seemed to think that I had two hearts, just because I was an alien from planet Earth! There were moments back then that I began to wonder myself!

Finally (and I blush to remember it) there was the night I was home alone, reading a UFO book from Earth. All of a sudden, there were strange noises and weird lights in the back yard, and I was nearly convinced that it was a flying saucer! It turned out to be the City of Hapdorn repairing our electrical service. Panu must have laughed at me for weeks!

So this last week, while Panu was away at an astronomer’s convention in Midnight City, I was surprised to discover that I missed him.

It sneaked up on me gradually, and took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it at all. The first day he was gone, it was a relief! I had a reprieve from household chores; I didn’t have to worry about disturbing him with my Skritch practice or the volume of the television; dinner was informal, and I had the place to myself. I was in paradise, or so I thought.

The second day was much like the first, except that my freedom lost some of its allure. Dinner wasn’t fun. The house was noticeably quiet. Somehow, my books couldn’t entice me, and since I was alone in the room, nothing could prevent me from flipping rapidly through the television channels. None of the shows caught my interest, because I didn’t give any of them a chance. I made another attempt at reading, but I ended up turning in early.

On the third day, I worked late, so I ate dinner in a harngedern; not a full restaurant. I got home late to a dark and cheerless house, and went straight to bed. No television, no books, no Skritch; just bed. The next morning I woke up far too early, and felt that I had somehow been cheated out of something.

I think it was on the fourth day that I began to realize that I missed Panu. How could that be? I wondered, we’re just friends who own real estate together; nothing more than that. We aren’t brothers, or cousins, or of the same race; or for that matter of the same species! I was born under Sol’s flamboyant yellow glare; while Panu grew and thrived under Tau Ceti’s gentle orange caress. We share our meals and some of our spare time, but we have very little basis for the fragile friendship we share.

So I was perplexed at my feelings. I started seeing Panu-shaped holes in the air. No one to consider in my dinner plans; no one to critique me when I played my Skritch; no one to interrupt my reading and drag me out-of-doors to show me the splendors of Homeland’s nighttime sky. I woke up thirsty halfway through the night and found the living room all ablaze, for I had grown dependent on Panu’s irritating fondness for turning off the lights.

The fifth day (if you can believe this) I even dreaded coming home from work! The house was dark and empty and echoed like a tomb. It didn’t seem like a very nice place to be at all, but I couldn’t think of an alternative. I had overvisited the harngedern and the library. There were no social activities that night. I had run out of excuses for working late.

What shall I do? I asked myself in despair. I could have visited Lanni and Harna, and I turned that idea over in my mind a time or two. I could visit almost any of the neighbors; but I convinced myself that it was a bad idea. I could poop a party at a pair of paces with my petty, pensive pouting. I rationalized that I’d best keep my ornery feelings to myself.

I went to bed with a headache; probably from thinking too alliteratively.

Finally, the day and time arrived when I was supposed to pick up Panu at the airport. I had to wait a long time for the flight from Midnight City to arrive, because I had left home too early. I remember peering over the crowd as the passengers filed out of the gate. I eagerly strained to see, standing at the tip of my toes. Is that him? Everybody on the flight seemed to look alike; I began to think I’d never find him!

Finally, there he was, his shiny white smile flashing brightly against his dark skin. He spotted me first! He had a green ThorgelfaynAire flight bag over his left shoulder, and he waved his long, slender arm to greet me.

After retrieving his baggage, we walked in silence to my car. Once out of the airport and in the cool, crisp mountain air, he said something that I barely heard:

“Well, did you miss me?”

“Oh, I kept myself pretty busy,” I lied, as the lump grew larger in my throat, “It’s almost as if you left just yesterday!”

“I figured that’s what would happen,” he said, and flashed me a big smile.

I opened the trunk of my ‘98 Snitt, and we began to load in his suitcases one by one.

“Hey, John, look at that!” Panu exclaimed excitedly, pointing up into the sky. He caught me by surprise, which made me drop the heaviest suitcase right on my toe! I didn’t complain, since Panu was too absorbed to notice anyway. “Do you see that, John?” he asked excitedly, “That’s an interplanetary spaceship taking off from the First Moon!”

I used my right hand as a visor (I don’t know why, since it was dark), and looked carefully into the sky: sure enough, a faint white glimmer followed a path that curled out from the First Moon and then along Tau Ceti’s ecliptic plane away from the sun.

On the way home, Panu chattered incessantly about his trip, but I don’t remember a word of what he said. Maybe it’s because I was trying to drive with a throbbingly sore toe.

A friend is a joy; but a friend who returns is a greater joy.