Manuel

by Mel George

She had just sat down for the first time in what seemed like months, when the doorbell rang. With almost a sob of frustration, she heaved herself to her aching, sore feet, and shuffled into the hall. Through the frosted glass peered an unfamiliar man, and she frowned and smoothed her hair behind her ears before opening the door.

“Yes?”

He was tall and dark, and for an insane moment she was reminded of her morning’s horoscope. She had long passed horoscopes off as another thing she would have liked to believe in, but couldn’t. The stranger smiled a wide and disarming smile. There was something about his eyes that made her quickly drop her gaze.

“Yes,” he said. “I am Manuel. I have come to mend your washing machine.”

A look of sudden relief and recollection crossed her face as she let the man in, the spell broken.

“Ah, yes, thanks, it’s in the kitchen.” She stumbled down the hallway behind him, harvesting crumpled tissues from the floor, kicking shoes out of the way and wishing he had let her go first.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, upon entering the kitchen, beaming around like an architect who has just set foot inside his finished cathedral for the first time. A little unnerved, she pointed out the washing machine and then set about tidying up around him.

She hastily snatched up a pile of junk mail and random paper from the counter, and in doing so freed a photograph, which slipped to the floor. With a small gasp she dived to retrieve it, picking it up as carefully as one might handle an ancient and fragile document. She put it down on the counter with an attempt at casualness, but stole a look back at it out of the corner of her eye and moved a finger to touch the face staring up at her with its fixed laugh.

“You think it has been too long now.”

She almost jumped out of her skin, and the photo was knocked onto the floor again. The repair man’s voice echoed from inside her washing machine, where he was delving around.

She took a couple of deep breaths to steady her nerves again. His sudden speech had taken her by surprise, that was all. There was no need to feel like she had been caught in the act. Smoothing down her shirt, she asked politely, “I’m sorry?”

“You think,” he said, his head not emerging from the drum, “that it has been too long for you still to miss him so much.”

Stunned, she grasped the counter top with one hand and stared at Manuel’s back. Her eyes flicked down to the fallen photograph and back up. With a last attempt at normality, she gave a little, choking laugh and said, “what do you mean?”

“I apologise,” he said gently, groping around for a spanner. “I noticed the photo on the way in. Who was he?”

Afterwards, she reflected that there had been no reason to suspect the photograph showed somebody who was dead; and that in any case, it had been hidden under a pile of paper on his way in. At the time, though, she was satisfied and greatly relieved.

She wasn’t sure why she answered the man. From anybody else, this gross intrusion of privacy would merely have made her clam up and leave the room. Instead, she bent to pick up the picture again, and looking thoughtfully at the smiling face within, replied, “He was my brother. An accident – a long time ago now.”

“Time is a relative thing,” said Manuel. “Especially where love is concerned. Those who are most important to us do not lose their importance over time.”

Still staring at the photo, she felt a familiar lump in her throat. “He was most important to me. He was the only one who really knew me.”

Manuel finally extracted his head from the washing machine and fixed her with a thoughtful, tender gaze. “The only one?” he asked. “I wonder… do you ever think about your Maker? Surely He must know you?”

This brought a jolt to her stomach, and she put down the photo to stare unseeingly at the grubby toaster. “Er… not really my thing,” she forced out, with an unconvincing little laugh. She opened her mouth again to change the subject, but was interrupted by the repair man, who had got to his feet.

“Sometimes you still pray, longing for an answer,” he murmured. “You ask things to change, but they don’t seem to. Friends surround you, try to comfort you, but you don’t let them, because it still hurts. And why pray at all, when he seems too far away to hear you?”

Despite her best efforts, tears were now dripping silently onto the lino. She hid her face in her hands and tried to stay standing.

“But I know about every tiny, feeble prayer, Katy,” said Manuel.

Through everything going on in her head, she still managed to give a great sniff and stare shakily at the man.

How do you know? Who are you?!”

The way he looked at her made her collapse in tears again; but they felt like good tears, something she hadn’t thought was possible.

“I am the repair man,” he whispered. “I have come to mend what is broken.” He smiled, and stepped forwards to embrace her. “And I am with you.”

Mel George is a fan of allegory, especially at Christmas. On behalf of The Pygmy Giant, God rest ye merry, everyone. TPG will be back in the New Year.

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