A smoky dusk sets in. Ashen fog rises from the depths, copulates with the delicate orange light and births a rare red mist. Dribbling a soccer ball close to the ledge, the halfback bobs his ball towards the mist but never sees it return. The boy turns when his grandma calls him from the porch of the pretty stone-and-wood cottage, perched on the steep south side of the Ozark Mountains. The rare mist is an ethereal halo round it.
We’ve customers Bono, she says.
Bono trots in with enthusiasm, and on the oak kitchen-top, kneads some fresh flour for the flat breads. The menu is Latin-American—ceviche, chicken-wings and black beans. Aromas of the food waft down the winding valleys to pull in motorists from a 12-mile radius. Not one competing restaurant. An inconspicuous hand-painted sign nailed to a tree down the bend reads—‘Martha’s’. Nails have fallen off it; the sign hangs on a slant, the arrow skywards; but that doesn’t deter families on vacation, old couples or new friends like Jamie and Kiki, to visit.
The family-of-five take their seats. Hickory flowers—small, yellow-green catkins—nestle snugly close to the roof, breaking off when they’re cradled by the wind.
Father of this family had felt like a zombie driver on autopilot, zoning out when the sign ‘Martha’s’ had appeared out of the fog. Delectable aromas had guided the way before the red mist had parted to reveal the cottage.
Grandma shuffles about; the boy is collected as he brings in a romaine-cabbage-red-onion ensalada. A little while later, he brings in the flat breads, blackened shrimp and sautéed vegetables in ancho-tequila pan sauce.
The family over-tips grandma after a hearty meal. She waves them a zesty goodbye and wishes them a happy onward trip. With unsteady feet, she climbs the steps back and reclines on her cushy brown armchair.
Bono had a game that Friday, four springs ago. They’d set off for their holidays a little behind schedule. When their car had rolled off the ledge at the very same spot, their father must’ve dozed off behind the wheel. Beside him was Bono. At the back were his sister who was capturing the scenic topography on camera, Mom and Grandma.
After the pause, Grandma was the only one alive. Bono was the only one missing, not even his body in a sack.
When Grandma got discharged, her hip replaced with steel nuts and bolts, she’d looked for Bono in the thick woods underneath the ledge. The steep drop revealed nothing. Only a red mist that smelt like Bono hugged her. She built the cottage; let the red mist waft in. It was Bono. He had come to stay with her—moving at her apron tails, holding her hand when she felt wobbly. Together they pull back drowsy motorists from the downslide.
Bono picks up the dishes. The red mist lifts and the ball bobs back.
Mandira Pattnaik is Indian and considers herself lucky to have experienced its diversity. She’s bloomed late and eternally grateful for the wide readership of her recent writings that Eclectica, Runcible Spoon, 101words, (Mac)ro(mic), Lunate, DoorIsAJar and FewerThan500 have published.