Saturday, April 28, 2007

I found the old man at the bus stop today when I got there, humming softly to himself. He patted my leg when I sat down, his standard greeting, and smiled weakly at me. His eyes looked cloudier than they ever have before, and I realized with a sudden tightening of my chest that left no room for breathing that someday my accidental prophet will simply be gone.

He stopped humming and asked, not looking at me, "Red, are you married?" I shook my head, and he turned and caught my gaze. "I was married for over fifty years. Can you imagine that? Lost her a couple of years ago. Meanest woman I've ever met." I smiled at him. "I don't believe that for a second." He scoffed. "Don't believe it? I'm too old to be making up stories, Red. A person can love anything if he wants to badly enough, and I loved that woman harder than I ever loved anything else. Didn't make her any less mean, or less perfect. World's funny that way."

My chest tightened again, eyes burning with sudden unshed tears. I do not deserve these kind of confidences, but I took his hand in mine, shocked as always by its softness. His other hand took hold of my chin and tilted it up to face him. "I'll be seeing her soon enough, but I want you to promise me you'll love someone that hard someday. It's what makes it all worthwhile." His eyes narrowed, catching sight of my tears, and he squeezed my hand. "Child, what's all this about?" I leaned sideways, resting my head on his shoulder. He smelled of old books and sweat, and I could feel the warmth of his shoulder through my hair. "I think that you are a very, very great man."

He squeezed my hand again, chuckled dustily. "Now girl, there's no need for all of that. No need at all."

We sat there silently save for his humming in the few minutes left before the bus pulled up, and as he stepped up through the doors he turned and winked. It was only then that I was able to breathe again.

(Old Man 1, Old Man 2, Old Man 3.)

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