Remember me? I remember you. We met at the Atlanta airport on the night of December 18th. Neither one of us had any place to go. Both of us had nothing but time.
You sat on a circular cushion separated by too much distance from the other people. I needed a place to sit. Upon my approach, I gave you a nod. You gave one back. That was all of the permission I needed to sit down.
And so, our conversation began.
I am curious about the people I meet. I asked what you did for a living. You told me a tale of the trials and tribulations of being a wounded vet, being on lists upon lists waiting to see the right doctor, managing the pain of your injuries, and of growing old.
I returned with a tale of a new position as a teacher. I was here to pick up my wife whose discount carrier was chronically late. The arrival board listed yet another delay.
You told me you were killing time until you went home. A nice home. One of those newer apartment homes: two bedrooms, one bath. You were going to leave just as soon as your leg felt well enough to walk.
That was the first true statement you spoke to me.
I knew you were lying, but I gained nothing by calling you on it. You had an odor, albeit faint, of urine from the streets. Your clothes had no holes, but they also lacked a crease on the pants where there should have been one. Two brass buttons on your right jacket sleeve. Only one on the left. Your shoes did not match, they were close, but not close enough. Both the left and the right were worn on the left-hand side of the soles. Nobody walks that way to wear shoes that way.
What you did have going for you was a disposition, not to admonish the world around you, but rather, to accept the cards you were dealt and play them the best way you knew how.
You asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee, your treat, from the airport Starbucks. I countered with a promise I made to cut back on the java. Only a few seconds elapsed before you came clean.
DVT is just bad enough to be as bad as it sounds. A chronic condition aggravated by the weather does not make one envious of your lot in life. I didn’t have to look at you because I knew you were not looking at me. Some men converse this way. Apparently, we are both of this ilk.
I am not a bleeding heart, nor a crusader. I could have patronized, but I didn’t. At our ages, there is no reason to dispense with advice not wanted.
The airport video said my wife’s flight was just now leaving Ft. Lauderdale. That gave me two hours with you. Two hours to fish or cut bait.
Bait at the Atlanta airport is not as bad as it seems. Shared bait tastes even better.
I treated for dinner for two at a nice sit-down bistro. I informed the waitress tonight was research with the ambassador for a term paper due tomorrow.
I gave her a $20 tip in advance to grease a few wheels.
Her smile was nearly as large as yours.
For the next two hours, we spoke not of the world as it was or how it should be. Rather, we spoke as two men who made choices and lived with the consequences. You had a few brushes with depression and alcohol. I was a firefighter for a bit too long. You thought it was a few years too short.
My salmon looked almost like your tenderloin. Out of respect, we drank water.
For that short period of time, you said we ate like emperors and lived as all men should live.
One last toast, another generous tip for the waitress, and it was time to move to the gates to retrieve my wife from her arduous journey across a single state line.
I was ready to slip a few twenties to you, but you said you had to use the men’s room first.
That was the last true statement you spoke to me.
You knew I knew about your eyes welling up.
A proud man would not have made the pretense about the men’s room, he would have just departed as quietly as he arrived. Such is the manner of such a man.
For a brief moment, you thought about extending your hand. I would have shaken it if you did. However, I learned you call your own shots.
You turned to walk, hiding the wince the leg pain offered and walked where I was not to walk. For me, it was the Domestic Arrivals. For you, it was anywhere but.
Harrold, if that is your real name, thank you. You must have found the twenties I slipped into your jacket pocket when you turned your head at the dinner table.
I found them back in my coat pocket when I reached for my gloves.
Perhaps, not a stranger after all.
Perhaps, not a stranger after all.
Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of thirty years. He lives in 1974, and has been married for twenty-eight years. His works are found everywhere a search engine operates.