His number one rule was to always be prepared. He knew all too well that a guest could drop in at even the smallest of hours and demand to be attended to. Some of them fancied a grand entrance, where they’d throw the door wide open , march straight to the kitchen table, and call for him. Others resorted to a timid knock, and only after ample ushering, would slowly follow him to the kitchen table.
The kitchen table was small and rectangular; with lightly cushioned chairs. The yellow light shone directly on the yellow wood , giving off a warm golden glow which the guests were inevitably drawn to. They would sit facing him, and he would listen. Every guest had a story; a character ; a purpose. The kitchen table was cosy and inviting, but for many, it was where he dismissed them.
The dismissed visitors would always leave with grace; even the most boisterous ones would gently slip out. Some of them were certain he would come to regret dismissing them, and sometimes they were right. There were times he would curse himself for turning them away, but visitors kept pouring in, and his guest house was always full.
There was no way of knowing how long the guests would stay for. Some stayed for years, others; for just a few hours. There were a few he believed were permanent, but he knew that there was no way to know for sure. He was used to the visitors leaving in the night, without any notice whatsoever.
As a young and impressionable boy, he was easily awed. Each guest seemed so wonderful; he’d want to host them all forever. But he could never make out who was going to stick around. As the years passed , experience caught up with him and he grew slightly better at discerning who would be an ideal guest. Unless of course he was deceived.
Robert made his entrance a few years ago, when the host prided himself on his judgement. Robert was smartly dressed and clever, but it was his charismatic confidence that was the most appealing. Seated at the kitchen table he had looked the host directly in the eye and said “I have so much to show you.” And thus began the Era of Robert.
He got along with all the other guests. He always had the most exciting stories, and with each passing day, the host spent more and more time with him. Time seemed to stop in Robert’s company , and soon he was no longer keeping track of how long he’d been staying. Then one day the host felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around to face a stranger who had once been his dear friend.
It was Jean, the pianist who was a permanent resident. His ambivalence was showing through his mixed expressions.
“Where have you been? Haven’t seen much of you lately.” Jean was struggling to keep his tone steady. The host wasn’t sure why Jean seemed flustered, but he knew he must try to placate him.
“Jean! It’s so n-”
“Nice to see me?” Jean spat churlishly. “Is it now?” His voice was almost taunting.
And that’s when the host realised why Jean was no longer a close friend. He couldn’t remember the last time they had spent time together. The host had been so fond of Jean , and would revel in his musical company. Jean’s fingers were magic; they would dance on the piano, composing tunes so captivating the entire house would fall silent. The puzzled host wondered how he hadn’t paid Jean any attention in such a long time.
“Jean, will you play me a song?” The host asked suddenly.
Jean’s harsh expression melted into a puerile enthusiasm. He could never refuse music. But this time, something wasn’t right. To the untrained ear, his piece was as mellifluous as always, but to the host and Jean, the nuances were deafening.
Jean was livid. “Don’t you see!” He yelled. “Don’t you see what Robert is doing to us!”
“Robert?” The host was taken aback.
“Yes, your precious Robert. Do you know what the other permanents are doing? Have you noticed at all that no visitors come anymore? Your spend all your time with Robert! You’re neglecting everyone else!” He replied angrily.
The host soaked it in , and considered that perhaps there was some truth to Jean’s words. What had everyone else been doing? And Jean was right, there hadn’t been any new guests in a while. But how could Robert have anything to do with any of this?
The host had seen a fair share of bad guests. They were supercilious, pretentious, sloppy, or sometimes even all three! Then there were those who harboured all sorts of vices, and those who burnt a hole straight through his wallet. But Robert didn’t fit any of those categories.
“I thought you liked Robert.” The host finally said.
“I did until he told you I wasn’t important enough.” Jean said poignantly. The host opened his mouth but Jean cut him off.
“What exactly does he want?”
“He’s into many things ; politics mostly. We spend time following it, and he’s thinking about running maybe, and I’m going to help him.”
“You can’t be serious!” Jean exclaimed incredulously. “Do you know anything about politics?”
“I didn’t but I’m learning!” The host said defiantly.
“And you’re gonna help him run? What, for president? Just think! Is this realistic?….”
But the host wasn’t listening any more. Jean’s mocking tone had struck a nerve, but the host forced himself to think. Robert hadn’t mentioned anything about running, but seeing the increasing trend in his ambition, it wouldn’t be long before he would pitch the idea. Robert did have unconscionable expectations, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing was it? But then he remembered the price of it all. Jean’s music had taken a hit, and host knew it was because he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. The visitors survived on the host’s attention, and a lack of it would drive them away. And now he was slowly destroying them all.
And so the following day the host took Robert aside and told him that he could no longer devote all his time to him. He also told him how he didn’t like spending too much time on his far fetched ideas.
“But Robert I hope you don’t misunderstand. I enjoy your presence, and I learn so much from you. But there are others too.”
“Do they really need you?” So Jean had been right. Robert had been subtly hinting that he was more important than the rest.
“Yes. They need me as much as you do. Nothing will change really. We’ll still talk, just not as much.”
Robert was shaking his head. “No, no. I need more of your time, not less! It can’t be that way. Come on man, where is all this coming from?”
For the first time, the host saw Robert in a different light. He was attention seeking and obdurate. He would’t even consider meeting him halfway.
“No I.. I can’t do that. I’m sorry Robert. ”
And by the next morning, Robert had left.