Lee, a 25-year-old waiter, was distressed. He had recently lost his mother. On top of that, he had stumbled upon a bundle of letters his mother had stashed away for years while clearing out her room. They were written to her by someone called Steve, who according to the letters, was in prison.
A single parent, Lee’s mother had never talked about her partner. And Lee knew absolutely nothing about his father.
‘Could the sender of the letters be my father? Was my father a criminal?’ Lee wondered, as anguish filled his mind.
Lee had no one else to call family, nor did he have many friends. The only person he opened up to was, sadly, one of his regular customers at the café. Stephen was a librarian who came over every evening for supper. He would stay until after Lee cleaned up for the day. During that time, many a conversation had flown between the two men over the years.
Lee considered the elderly man his mentor and confidante. His face would light up when he saw Stephen enter the café every evening. And so it did that day as well.
“Good to see you, Stephen…” Lee greeted and brought him his usual order.
After Stephen had his supper, Lee closed the café to sweep the place clean. Lee spoke to Stephen about his mother and the letters. Stephen listened intently and said nothing for a long time.
“Let me tell you a story…” he finally said, pulling himself a chair.
“Once upon a time, there was a man who robbed people for a living. One day, as fate would have it, he fell in love with a sophisticated, affluent woman. He feared that she would reject him if he told her the truth about what he did. And so, he lied to her.”
“His love for her made him want to become a better man,” emphasised Stephen. “So he decided that after one last job, he would retire. The job was risky, but it offered him a chance to make good money, marry the girl of his dreams and start a family. And so, he agreed.”
“Unfortunately, however, he got caught red handed and was thrown behind bars. Filled with guilt and regret, he wrote his lover countless letters from prison. But she never replied. She’d chosen to keep the thief out of her life.”
“When he finally got out of prison, the first thing he did was enquire about her. He learnt that she’d been disowned by her family for having a child out of wedlock. He learnt that she’d moved out of town to start a new life on her own.”
“Eventually, the thief did track her down. He begged her to give him a second chance. But she did not want him to be part of her life anymore. Unable to move on and still in love with her, the thief took on a respectable job in the same town…” Stephen finished his story.
“Are you talking about my father?” Lee said, bewildered.
Stephen pulled out an old photograph from his wallet. Standing next to Stephen in the photograph was Lee’s mother.
The waiter’s stomach churned.
“A lifetime passed by, but she never forgave me,” Stephen said slowly. “But I’ve been praying all these years that someday at least our son would…”
Lee was at a loss for words.
“He does…”, Lee finally whispered, as he held Stephen’s hand across the table.