The soldier stood at the bus stop, watching the tail-lights of the bus disappear. Heard it trail off in the distance, taking all the sounds of the night with it. It was odd, he had remembered the city differently. Loud and bustling, full of life. But it was night, and those that filled the street were tucked into bed. Oblivious to everything but their dreams. He stood there, staring down the dark emptiness until a street lamp flickered. The soldier reacted, reaching over his shoulder for a gun that was no longer there. Grasping at air, it took him a moment to realize. There was no danger here. He was home. Home.
He began to walk. The stop was just a block from his house, his sleeping family, his life. Even so, it began to rise gradually, the sense of unease, until it bubbled up like bile in his throat. How was the street so silent? The only sound was his feet on the pavement, the ragged exhale of his breath, and the blood in his head. Pounding, pounding, pounding. He was running then, doing anything to escape the silence.
“Dad.” It came out as a whisper. Louder then, “Dad… Dad!” Until the soldier was bellowing below his window. He stopped. A light flickered on, the flash of a face in the glass, and then a crash. It was later he would learn that the man had fallen, rushing down the stairs to confront the ghost outside his window. He had heard the voice many times before, calling for him, but it was always a dream. The man had thought this was no exception. How many times had he turned at the supermarket when he had heard his name. Dad. Or on the street. Dad? But the call was never for him. Dad!
The door flung open, and for a moment the man and the soldier just stared at one another. One disheveled, his hair –normally so carefully slicked back- was unruly. The first three buttons of the striped pajama top undone. Eyes wide, shining even in the dim light of the street. The soldier stood tall, shoulders square. The heft of his duffel bag seemingly weightless. His uniform impeccable despite the long journey. His expression impassive. The man reacted first, grasping the soldier’s face with both hands. “Joey! Figlio mio.” A kiss was placed on each cheek with fervor disbelieve. “Is it really you?” He was murmuring to himself then, staring into the face of the soldier. Intensely. Probing. The man gazed into hazel eyes, so much like his own, searching in them for his son. “You’re home.” A light flickered on.
“Vieni, I’ll make espresso. No,” the man said pausing. “A beer. We’ll have a beer.” He pulled him into the entryway, hurriedly. The warmth of home enveloped the soldier, the scent as familiar to him as his own face. It was all the same, nothing had changed. The man pulled the duffel from the soldier’s shoulder, pushed the coat off, dropping both at the door. It was then that his shoulders began to droop, everything was suddenly so heavy. The father wrapped his arm around the boy and walked his son into the kitchen.
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