He was a frail man. I could tell by the way his shoulders hung loosely in his gray t-shirt. I sighed heavily and considered not sitting next to him. I wasn’t in the mood for small talk. The scorching sun beamed its’ fiery rays on me and I began to feign for the seat next to the old man. The bench he was parked on happened to be under a billowing tree; a tree that could conveniently block me from the diligence of the sun. As I inched closer to the seat, he turned his slightly wrinkled, tanned head towards me and smiled. The idea that I could prefer enduring the heat in avoidance of this man, immediately became void at that point. He knew his smile would entrap me, and therefore begin our friendship. Old people do it on purpose. Their next step in life is, ironically, not having one at all, so we’re supposed to automatically become ensued with sympathy and the responsibility of befriending them at bus stops. One-way ticket to hysteria, anyone? I smiled back, silently agreeing to be his friend, and sat down next to my new momentary companion. I’m not so sure why I assumed something great would come out of this, there weren’t any tell-tale signs indicating that it would, but his smile was sincere. Not too many people have those anymore, you know? Before I could let out my next breath, or even try to catch it, in a scratchy, throaty voice, possibly from smoking, he asked me what my name is. I leaned back and crossed my legs, turned towards him simultaneously, and said, “Martha.” God, I hated my name. I’m sure he could tell by the way I barely peeped it out. I think I tried to put it into the world, but took it back because of how ridiculous it sounded. He turned his attention back towards the street and said plainly, “I never liked that name. It’s just so unpleasant. Of course, it don’t mean nothin’ bout the person who wears the crown, but you know, let’s just say I ain’t never met any fun Martha’s.” He cocked his head and questioned me once more, looking into my eyes in search of a lie. “Are you fun?” I couldn’t restrain the laughter that spilled out of me. I looked at him in disbelief. I guess that’s a plus side of getting old; you can say whatever you want, when you want. I felt the stresses of my day slowly slip out onto the melting pavement and immediately took a liking to him.
“I don’t know, I guess I’m fun. I’m no party animal, but… I can—“
Before I could finish my obvious thought, he interjected and coyly said, “Yeah, I know. You get down and dirty.” He laughed, but only for a second. A fit of coughs took over and he struggled for a beat or two, but it really felt like several. I looked on sympathetically, there’s that responsibility again, but didn’t attempt to assist him. He looked like he could take care of himself. He finally found his breath, came back to life and said “I’m just messin’. You look like a stand up gal. You in school, Martha?”
I love that question. Not because I attend an Ivy League school, but for the fact that people ask questions they assume they’ve already got the answer to. The truly beautiful thing is watching a cloud of confusion form on their faces when they realize that you’re on the other side of the fence. Sometimes I say no just to see that reaction. I prepared to tell him that I wasn’t in school, that I was a drifter taking on a nomadic approach to life in search of the worlds end. But instead, he mapped out my life for me.
“Of course you’re in school, a young girl like you? You studyin’ to be a doctor? You look like you’d be the cool gal walkin on those linoleum hospital floors, just clickin’ down the hall with your heels, what do you call em? Stilts or somethin’ like that.” I laughed heartily and corrected him.
“Stilettos,” I said.
He nodded vigorously in agreement and tapped me excitedly. My mother used to do that to me, and I hated it. Something about him, though, made it seem natural; real. It was warm, and I liked it.
“Yea, you’d be carrying around ya files breaking hearts left and right.”
He dazed out onto the open road and nodded, envisioning the vivid portrait of my life he’d just created. I suppose he only bought himself a ticket because the only thing I saw were the cars passing by faster than lightening; so quick you wonder if you even saw it. He looked at me and smiled again.
“Whatever’s on your mind kid, let it go.” He tapped me again. Though, this time, he lingered. I wondered what he meant by that and broke our gaze. I’d barely said two words, why would he automatically assume I’ve got something weighing on me? Besides the brutal sun, there was nothing on my back. I’m happy. I was about to debate this, refute his statement and tell him to take it back because he had it all wrong.
“I’m not sure what you mean. I’m great.”
I smiled to lock and seal the lie I’d thrown into the universe, except he ignored me and instead, smiled at the person who was headed in our direction. I thought I was special. Just like a man to make you feel like you’re the only one who receives their sweet nothings. I looked up the street for the bus I knew wasn’t coming. We still had fifteen minutes left, but I checked anyway. I needed something to do. I then closed my eyes and tried to relax, but his throaty voice interrupted my moment. I piqued my head up and opened my eyes to give him my attention, but he wasn’t even talking to me. I was old news now. In a way, I finally got the cold front I wanted.
“Hey, this is Martha. Martha’s in school to be a doctor. Doesn’t she look so smart?”
My eyes almost walked right out of their sockets and off of my face. The new arrival laughed a bit and agreed, possibly to end the conversation, then refocused his attention back to his cell phone. My old friend grinned widely, displaying a few missing teeth, and tapped me.
“Look, even he thinks you’re smart. I’m tellin’ ya, you’re gonna be a hit.”
I shook my head at this obviously delirious man and said, “I’m not going to be a doctor. I hate blood.”
He chuckled as if I had said a joke and waved his hand dismissively. I could tell he was one of those people who said things like, “life’s too short, be happy!,” or “there’s nothing more important than your happiness.” Interrupting my thoughts, he said “I see. What else you hate, Martha?” As he awaited my answer, he looked into the sun that was finally resting itself on the sky; emitting purples,deep oranges, and the light blue backdrop of the sky. He wore an expression of peace. Nothing seemed to be bothering him and he spoke to me as if this was completely normal, as if we’d been friends for years.
I sighed heavily.
“I hate taking the bus.”