I Met a Man Today
Written by Paco Pascal, on 16 October 2022.
Tags: #fiction #short
I met a man today. I've seen 'em before. They pop up once in a while. You see them scattered among the people. Waiting in shopping lines, walking out of public restrooms, using a vending machine.
His face was covered with wrinkles. They weren't the soft, clean, bendy kind. They felt hard. Like the grand canyon, they were here to stay. He wore them like battle scars. They meant something. Stories were told through those wrinkles. But you could never quite make out what they were saying. You'd strain your ear, but only hear a mumble. A whispering scream. They didn't speak your language.
I saw him on the Dunkin' Donuts line. Waiting to order a coffee. The brown leather of his boots were growing little hairs from the constant use. He looked everyone in the eye. And smiled, but people shuffled the other way. Nobody quite knew what to say. Above his denim jeans was a gray sweatshirt that felt like it was saying, “I use to have a color”. Two young girls were in front of him, chatting away as their silky hair was held back by ears and ponytails. About school, cellphones, boys. They stood there with one knee bent and a hand on the hip, wearing brightly colored fuzzy boots. The man would smile and look at the gaudy footwear. "Those are some nice boots" he opened. "I need a new pair. Maybe I should get those." he said trying to get a laugh or smile. The talking stopped. You could hear the silent growl from one of the girls, as her smile left her face and her lip raised. They awkwardly stood there, not sure where to look. He took no offense and talked a little more. Telling a few more lighthearted jokes. The girls didn't respond much. Only "yeah" and "mhmm" once in a while.
Figure 1: Sourced from Google Maps
One day, he stood outside Dunkin' Donuts. With a bag of two doughnuts, I walked out the door heading straight for my bike. The grease slowly soaking into the white paper bag. He asked me for a lighter, reaching out his hand. He looked deep into my eyes. He reached right in, and put a small piece of himself inside. "I don't smoke", I said. We stood there silently for about 10 seconds, which felt like a decade. Our eyes were communicating. He didn't want a lighter. His hand remained fixed in space waiting for a lighter to come. "I'm sorry" I say, breaking this silent connection.
A few weeks went by. I went to Dunkin' Donuts to pick up a bacon, egg and cheese in between classes. While waiting in the line, I look down at the stack of local papers. Looking for something to entertain as I wait for the mix of usuals and new comers to finish ordering. A John Doe washed up. Found by a local fisherman. The paper printed a picture found in his wallet. Standing next to a women with a child between his arms. His skin felt soft and smooth. Smiling with the kind of purity a child has laying on the grass with his friends, after a long day of adventures. Finding all the possible pictures in the clouds.
Later that week, I went to the burial ground where the state rests the ashes of the unclaimed. I set a Bic lighter down, not knowing if he's there or not. "I'm sorry", I said. "Here's a lighter." My eyes gazed down at the mass grave, looking nowhere.
There's a blue Bic in my pocket now. The Zippos don't last.