John B Keane: Visitors - an affliction of the common man

ANY MAN who has his own habitation, whether it be flat, house or tent, is automatically subject to callers of all sorts. He may close his door and barricade it from the inside but he cannot keep it closed forever and whenever he has to make a foray for message or dash home from work he is wide open so to speak. In this matter of being subject to callers no one that I know has suffered as much as I have.

ANY MAN who has his own habitation, whether it be flat, house or tent, is automatically subject to callers of all sorts. He may close his door and barricade it from the inside but he cannot keep it closed forever and whenever he has to make a foray for message or dash home from work he is wide open so to speak. In this matter of being subject to callers no one that I know has suffered as much as I have.

So varied and so painful are my experiences that I will not inflict them upon the reader. The purpose of this essay is to amuse where possible and to bemuse where not. I shall not, therefore, relate a single one of the long list of crimes which have been perpetrated against myself and my humble abode. What I propose to do instead is to take a particular case and to deal with it carefully so that the reader will get the message, as it were.

Not far from where I live there is a country house and I am on good terms with the people who own it. We would connect in one way or another through marriage and have quite a good deal in common. Anyway to proceed the woman of this house has a number of sisters in America and from time to time when these sisters cannot come home themselves they depute others to call in order to convey their concern for the welfare of their sister and to act as it were as an ambassador on their behalf.

I happened to be in the house recently when there was a knock on the door. The woman of the house opened it and outside stood a group of people headed by a tall grey-haired man who spoke with an American accent. In his hand he held a hat which was also grey in colour.

“Pawdon me,” he asked, “is this Monagans?”

Monagan, of course, is a name I have just invented as I do not wish to embarrass people who may think it is to them I am referring. There are quite a number of people like this but we are not here to discuss them. Perhaps some other time. The woman of the house answered in the affirmative.

“Your sister Kitty told us call,” the American drawled. Following this announcement there was no other course open to my friend but to invite them in. I excused myself as I did not want intrude upon the exchanges which might might possibly be of a personal nature.

“I want to see you before you go,” the woman of the house said. With that she seated the visitors, two men and two women, and drew me aside.

“In honour of God,” said she, “will you get me a pound of ham, a pound of tomatoes and a sliced pan and a cake.”

“What kind of a cake?” I asked foolishly. “Any kind,” she said in great agitation and she slammed the door in my face. She had forgotten to give me any money but this was beside the point. I lit out for town and bought the ham, the tomatoes and the cake and the sliced pan. The only cake available was a jam roll. Still, it was better than no cake at all.

I paid for the purchases and returned to the house. I was discreet about it. I knocked on the back door. Herself answered it and she seemed relieved to see me. I learned afterwards that the visitors ate all the ham, all the sliced pan, all the tomatoes and all the jam roll. They said thanks when they were leaving and that was the last she ever saw of them.

Some weeks after herself and her husband and two children were just about to begin their lunch when three friends of one of the American sisters, a different sister this time, arrived out of the blue. This time they found the front door and they entered without knocking. The lunch had to be postponed while they all sat around exchanging irrelevancies. The man of the house grew hungrier and hungrier but they could not begin without offering some to the visitors and since there was not enough to go around this could not be done. This can be terribly frustrating situation as anybody who has experienced it will verify – not frustrating, however, for the visitors who seem to be an insensitive lot.

The truth is they are not insensitive at all, just mean and selfish. They would eat the lunch if they were offered it and they would stay the night if invited and they would eat lunch the following day if asked. In fact, they would feel wronged if the original occupants of the house died of starvation.