Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: The Favour: Your narrator visits an elderly and eccentric relative for Sunday lunch. After the meal, they are asked for an unusual favour. 

The Favour

By Nathalie Zani

Mia shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she watched her grandmother eat her noodles with a pair of knitting needles. Mia’s grandmother Elena had always been a little bit…well…eccentric. 

“Mia, my love, eat your food before it gets cold. And stop being so anxious. No one but you cares what I’m using to eat.”

Mia wasn’t quite sure that was true. 

The four teenage girls at the next table had made a valiant effort not to giggle when Elena handed the shocked waiter back the wooden chopsticks and pulled out a ball of yarn with two needles stuck in it, affirming, “Don’t worry, young man, I brought my own.” The waiter looked at Mia, as if expecting her to intervene. But Mia knew there was no arguing with her grandmother; so, blushing furiously, she looked down and began eating.

The pair enjoyed their meal, Elena chatting away about her current pet topic: “You see, my love, all you young people are so worried about the environment, and you should be! But a lot of the solutions people give to the problem assume you have quite a bit of money! Buy from your small local business owners to cut down on carbon emissions they say. Never mind that if I buy at the local market my vegetables are double the price of those in the supermarket. Or buy Bio-products! Well, those are four times the price!” Elena struggled with a noodle that kept sliding through the needles. She stabbed it through and rolled it up as she might have a strand of yarn. “And it’s not like we all live near a local market. And if I use the car to go, what was the point of making a fuss about carbon emissions?” 

The waiter walked by, watching Elena out of the corner of his eye, a couple in tow. He showed them to their table across from Elena and Mia; the latter noticed the man whispering to his girlfriend while eyeing Elena’s needles. 

“But I know the environment is important. See, we’re not supposed to use disposable cutlery, but why would I need to buy reusable chopsticks when my knitting needles work exactly the same way. I’m trying to protect the environment, my love, but I have to do it within my means—” Elena’s eyes widened in fear. 

“Gram?” Mia asked. But Elena had frozen looking at the restaurant door. Mia turned to see what her grandmother was looking at. At the door was a handsome elderly gentleman.

Mia frowned and turned back to Elena, “Gram, what’s wrong?” 

Agitated, Elena was trying to make herself as small as possible. She waved Mia over and whispered quickly, “Mia, my love, I did something…questionable…I need you to do me a favour.”

Mia cocked an eyebrow, wondering what her grandmother had done, but above all if she would finally meet one of her grandmother’s suitors. “Anything, Gram. What do you need?”

“I need you to pretend that I am invisible.”

Mia blinked a few times. “You need me to pretend that you’re what?”

“Invisible!” Elena said louder, looking over at the gentleman who hadn’t seemed to notice her. “I need you to sit back in your chair and pretend you are here by yourself because I am invisible and you cannot see me!” 

Mia frowned and saw the teenage girls and the couple had stopped eating and were eavesdropping. She turned back to Elena and was going to argue because this time her grandmother was going a bit far but Elena cut her off:

“Don’t argue with me! I’ll explain everything later!”

Mia pursed her lips and muttered, “Fine, but you better explain, Gram, because this is completely absurd! And you look crazy!” 

Elena shushed her and chugged the remaining broth in her bowl. She grabbed it and the knitting needles and shoved everything in her purse as Mia whispered accusatorially, “Gram! What are you—” but Elena shushed her again, when the gentleman finally seemed to notice her.

“Elena!” He half shouted across the room looking surprised and pleased. Mia turned to watch the man make his way over, but Elena didn’t move. She adopted a nonchalant expression and kept looking ahead. “Elena!” the man repeated drawing closer. But Elena sat still as if no one was calling her. Mia looked at the man and quickly stared down at her bowl, feeling all the world’s embarrassment rising in her cheeks. “Elena, dear!” the man called gently as he finally reached the table. “I was hoping you’d appear to me again.” Elena did not respond and Mia held her breath; the other tables did as well. The man frowned and asked again, “Elena? Please. Tell me you can hear me.” Silence. He cleared his throat and turned to Mia, who had closed her eyes and was wishing she would disappear. “Excuse me, miss.” 

Mia opened her eyes and looked up at the man, her heart beating so fast she was sure he could hear. “Yes, sir, how can I help you?”

He flushed a little bit but smiled warmly. “This is going to sound crazy but…” He pointed at Elena. “Can you see a woman sitting in front of you?” 

Mia took a sharp breath in and glanced at her grandmother who widened her eyes almost imperceptibly as if to remind her she had already agreed to do this favour. “Well…” Mia started. She chuckled, trying to buy time. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. What was your question?”

The gentleman looked at his hands, embarrassed, but drew closer to Mia and whispered, “Can you see a woman, sitting in the chair across from you?” 

Mia looked at the man and felt sad for him. She glanced at the two tables around them; everyone immediately began eating again, and she made eye contact with the waiter who had parked himself close enough to listen. She sighed. “No, sorry. I’m… here alone.” 

The man’s face dropped, and he left calling out a “Thank you!” as he walked away and out of the restaurant without looking back. Mia heard whispers coming from the tables around them, but she determined not to look.  She watched, waiting for the door to close as her grandmother sighed out loud, feeling relieved. 

Mia glared at her grandmother. “What is wrong with you, you crazy old lady?”

Elena flushed a little bit but started laughing. “My love, I think you’ll find this funny.”

“Gram, that was not funny! What was that?”

Elena laughed a bit more before calming down, “Okay, okay, let me explain.” 

Mia folded her arms and waited as her grandmother called the waiter—who seemed eager to draw closer and hear the story—to order a red bean mochi for dessert. She liked the gooey texture.  “Gram!”

“Okay, my love. Sometime last year, I was dating Arthur.” She nodded in the direction of the door, “That’s his name. Things were going well and he really is wonderful. But he got too serious. And I didn’t want to commit.” Mia frowned slightly as Elena continued. “One evening he took me to my favourite Japanese restaurant. We had a lovely time and he asked if I would go back to his apartment with him.” The waiter put down the mochi in front of Elena while discreetly eyeing the restaurant’s bowl she had stuffed in her purse. “When we got there, he put on a record of ‘We Belong Together’ by Ritchie Valens. And we danced, he held me close. It felt wonderful to be held.” Elena scrunched up her face a little bit. 

The waiter glanced at Mia who shrugged her shoulders and tried to look apologetic; he smiled at her, amused by the whole situation. Mia watched him walk away and asked her grandmother, “And then?”

“He pulled out a ring, got down on one knee, with a little difficulty I might add, and proposed.”

Mia imagined the scene as her grandmother recounted the story of a second proposal. Given her experiences with men, she found it hard to understand why you would turn down someone wonderful. “Why didn’t you want to commit?” she asked.

Elena reached over the table to take Mia’s hands in hers and gently tapped them. “Oh my love, I’m sure it must be hard for you to understand but I love my independence. I spent my whole life with others. First, it was my family. Then your grandfather. And it was a wonderful life, really. I have incredible memories. And I loved your grandfather. But now…now is time for me.” Elena looked at Mia and waited, as if gaging to see if she understood, then took a bite of her mochi. She wiped the flour off of her mouth and added, “Honestly, my love, I think the only man who could ever convince me to remarry would be your grandfather if he rose from the dead.” 

Mia smiled at that. She knew her grandparents had had a wonderful marriage, even if it hadn’t been perfect. It really had been a till death do us part, and Mia loved that. “Okay, Gram, I get it. You and Gramps were great together.” Elena smiled as if remembering her former husband while Mia asked, “My grandmother gets one wonderful marriage and another proposal before I even get one…. But what does that have to do with you pretending to be invisible?”

Elena shook her head smiling a little bit, still holding Mia’s hands. “Your turn will come, my love.” 

Mia wasn’t so sure that was true but, in that moment, she was more interested in hearing her grandmother’s latest crazy story than dwelling on her failed love life. “Grams…you being invisible?” 

Elena sat up straight, “Yes, yes. So, Arthur proposed and I was caught off guard. I knew he would propose one day considering how things were going. But I didn’t expect it this soon. For crying out loud, we had only been dating two months! But I felt awful. He’s such a wonderful man, and he hasn’t had the best of luck in the love department so I didn’t want to reject him and make him feel bad.” Mia waited to understand how that connected to being invisible. She noticed the other customers and the waiter were waiting to hear too. “So, I had an idea. Actually, my love,” Elena looked amused, “I got the idea from you.” 

“From me?” Mia asked. “I’ve never pretended to be invisible!”

“No, I know that. But remember that one young fella you fancied sometime a year ago?”

“Leo?” Mia said as she reached over to take a bite of her grandmother’s Mochi.

“Yes! Leo! You were upset because you told me he ghosted you.” 

Mia stopped chewing and stared at her grandmother intently. “Yes…he did…”

“Ghosted you! That’s what you said.”

“Alright…” Mia said, worried about where this was going.

“So, Arthur proposes, and I don’t want to make him upset, and somehow, what happened with you and Leo pops into my head and I think, ghost him.” 

Mia’s eyes widened as comprehension slowly dawned on her. “Gram…”

“I told him that it would be hard to believe, that I would really love to marry him but I cannot because I am actually a ghost.” Elena chuckled and Mia closed her eyes, hardly believing what she was hearing. “Of course, he didn’t believe me at first. He laughed and thought I was doing a bit. But I kept a straight face and thought ‘If young people are doing this, so can I!’ Can you believe that? I actually managed to keep a straight face.” Elena took another bite of her mochi and flour dropped on the table as she laughed. Mia stared at her grandmother, pondering the implications of not explaining modern lingo to older generations. “I explained that as a ghost, my ability to interact with the material world was limited. Once in a while I could choose to make myself appear to someone and I had chosen him because I liked him so much but that very soon I would go back to being incorporeal and I would ghost around among the living unaware of them as much as they are unaware of me.” Mia’s cheeks reddened again as she felt shame on behalf of her grandmother. “Now, my love, don’t make that face! He believed me. It made him sad, of course. But at least he didn’t feel rejected!” Mia heard the suppressed laughter of the unwanted audience and snapped. “Gram! That is not what being ghosted means!”

Elena leaned back, “What do you mean, my love?”

Mia clenched her jaw. “Being ghosted does not mean someone tells you they are a ghost! That is completely absurd and ridiculous! You thought Leo told me he was a ghost and that it worked? That I believed him? Can you imagine if that’s what it meant? All these people walking about telling people they were rejecting that they are ghosts! How would that even work?”

Elena frowned.

“Gram” Mia pleaded, “being ghosted just means someone cuts off all communication with you without giving you any explanation.”

Elena looked confused, “But what does that have to do with ghosts?”

“Because it’s someone vanishing in some way as if they were a ghost, but we’re not literally talking about ghosts, Gram. It’s just very rude behaviour!”

Elena looked at her granddaughter perplexed. “Huh…” and went silent. Then she burst out laughing. 

Mia rolled back her head, rested it on the back of her chair and groaned. “My own grandmother thought a guy rejected me by pretending to be a ghost…and thought it was a good strategy to get out of a proposal.” Mia sat up and looked at her grandmother who couldn’t stop laughing; and she shook her head, bewildered. 

Elena wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and stopped laughing. She turned to the waiter, a smile on her face. “Young man! Instead of eavesdropping on my conversation with my granddaughter, would you be so kind as to get us our check?” The waiter’s ears turned red and he rushed off to the cashier. The teenage girls now looked at Elena with fond smiles on their faces before returning to their conversation. 

Mia shook her head at her grandmother and started laughing. “I wish I could be as uninhibited as you, Gram. It makes you look crazy, but it also looks like fun.” 

“Well, my love,” Elena said as she took out the bowl from her purse and put it back on the table unconcerned by the drops of broth that were dripping everywhere, “the next time we eat out, I can lend you my knitting needles.” 

Mia smiled at that and turned to the waiter who had come back with the check. He handed Elena the bill, and she began scouring through her purse looking for her wallet. As Elena’s attention was turned away, the waiter slipped Mia a piece of paper. Surprised, she held it in her hand without saying anything. Elena paid and the waiter smiled at Mia before walking away. 

“Well, my love, what does the piece of paper he handed you say?” 

Mia smiled at her grandmother biting her lips and read out loud, “You look like you could use a less stressful meal. Let me take you out to dinner. I promise I won’t ghost you—or pretend I’m a ghost.” 

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