Thursday, October 13, 2011

Five minute friend

He straightened the rack of magazines, putting a Woman’s Day back in its place from where a careless customer had misplaced it on the Vogue stack. It was only a small airport newsstand, but he intended to keep it neat. After all, his stand was the last stop before gates 21 and 22 Delta in the Boston Logan International Airport.
The morning had been quiet so far, but a movement at the front of the store alerted him into action. Since working there over the past 5 weeks, he had trained himself to watch for the sticky fingers of travelers walking by.
The movement turned out to be a young woman inspecting one of the novels he had carefully arranged on a display table just outside the store. She looked to be about 16, but when she turned a bit more in his direction, her full figure told him otherwise. He could tell she was experienced at taking care of herself by the way she watched him from the corner of her eye intermittently and squeezed the straps of her black shoulder bag closed with her free hand. Seeing her smile at the writing on the dust jacket, he suddenly wished that his English weren’t broken, that he had read all the books on the table so that he could talk to her about them.
When she put the book down carefully on the top of the stack, she made her way inside.
“Hey, there.” She grinned at him before inspecting the selection of drinks in the freezer.
“Hello,” he spoke the word carefully, shifting on his feet.
She selected a bottle of Disani and turned to the counter.
“Where you are destined to?" His accent wrapping around every word, choking what little clarity he had.
She raised her eyebrows in question and leaned forward. “Where am I flying to?” she attempted to interpret.
He nodded, swallowing hard with embarrassment and straightening a box of book lights on his counter, as if her answer weren't important.
She laughed digging one hand absently through her bag. “Atlanta. Can't wait to get home.” As she turned her full attention to digging for her wallet, he stifled a laugh, imagining her tiny body falling into the depths of the bag that was nearly as big as she. He looked away when she came up with the wallet in hand.
“How much?” she asked
She turned around and eyed the snacks on the wall, and grabbed a bag of chocolate covered pretzels.
He took a deep breath. “You could buy 2 pack at price of $6.00.”
She cocked her head “How much is one?”
“3.57.” He grinned, proud to have remembered. He had memorized the price of every item in the store.
She shook her head, pushed the bag of pretzels and bottle of water toward him, and pulled out her debit card. “These airports’ll rob you blind.”
Unsure of how to reply to that comment, he swiped her card and waited for the receipt to print. “There you are.” He laid the receipt on the counter and handed her a pen.
“Thank you.”
He watched her name appearing on the line under the pen.
She passed the receipt back to him and smiled one last time. “Keep up the good work.”
It was her wink that made him want to keep her there, to talk to her. Instead he watched her grab the snack, hike the bag on her shoulder, and sashay out into the flow of people.
He walked out from behind the counter and pretended to straighten the books on the display table, but he watched her walking away to board a plane bound for the place that she had acquired her accent. When he looked down, he saw that he was still clutching her receipt. Jessi, he read.
For some reason he couldn’t wait to get home and call his mother to tell her—-tell her what? There was nothing to tell. Just someone who didn’t stare or frown at the coffee color of his skin, his dark hair, and dark eyes. Someone who didn’t refuse his smile, but mirrored it. Finally, someone who didn’t treat him as if his very proximity to a plane might instigate disaster. Someone who seemed as if she would have been excited to hear about the new life he was making for himself here in the land of equal opportunity.

Monday, October 10, 2011

As If

Lee remembered me yesterday—-or at least he put on a very good show that he did. But I wasn’t surprised because since our very first encounter I haven’t forgotten him either.
Three years ago, I went to open a bank account in my new state. When he greeted me, his handshake was firm and his smile genuine. While we waited for my info to process, we traded dreams of travelling and writing about our travels, and commiserated over our inability to pull up enough stakes to make those dreams come true.
Even though that feels like ages ago, every time I go in I look for him from the corner of my eye, or in a peek over the shoulder. Sometimes he sees me, and we acknowledge one another, but we never talk.
Today, sunk in a deep tapestry-covered chair across the lobby from his desk, I observed him as he conducted business with an elderly lady who was sporting white pants and pinkish hair. Intermittently, I watched the other banker, Antonio who has assisted me more than once and had snapped the presentable little ID picture that graces the front of my debit card. Antonio sat at his desk across the lobby helping two Indian gentlemen. Mine was the problem next in line for either Antonio or Lee to address, and I sat there calculating the details to determine which one would finish his business first.
Sometimes I can feel in my gut when something will go my way. Today, I wasn’t so sure. Antonio might just as easily have finished first to assist me. He was leaning forward in his seat, staring at the screen with the earnestness of a man watching hourglasses turn. The race could have gone either way. After all, hourglasses sometimes surprise us by holding scanty measures of sand, and little old ladies tend to ramble. But within two minutes, the pink-haired lady walked shakily toward the exit door, and Lee was walking toward me.
Recognition immediately lit his eyes. Not the way that a businessman recognizes a familiar loyal customer, and definitely not the way that a man softens his gaze when looking at a women with whom he has trusted his heart. But perhaps with the gaze of a man who had once recognized a soul like his own and remembered feeling comfortable with it. He escorted me to the desk, pulled out my chair, and then asked how he could help me.
The process took 2 minutes, no more, no less. When he slid my card back across the glossy desk top to me, he smiled as if glad the business part was over so that we could talk 'us.' His words were soft, as if we had a history. “I haven’t seen you in here in a while.” As if he’d been looking.
I resisted the urge to say, “Silly man. Don’t you know I’m invisible?” But he was looking at me concerned, as if he was ready to absorb my explanation. So I answered the question vaguely, all the while searching his eyes for traces of what might-have-been. I found none. Neither did I find the office eyes of a man hiding from home. Just a friendly gaze as if he knew how to remember people and value them.
When we wrapped up our conversation, he walked me to the door, said goodbye as if my visit had affected his day.
I got in my car and sighed at the thought of his kindness. It’s not as if he meant anything--surely not with that ring on his finger. It’s not as if those moments were significant.
So I pulled away to grocery shop for another dinner alone, and smiled, and carried on with my life as if I wasn't scared that there are no kind, single men out there. As if I’m sure that someday I’ll find a heart in which to safely rest mine. As if I don’t worry sometimes that I’ll always be alone.
As if.