I sat in the metal chair on the side of the road, watching the oncoming headlights illuminating the cooling night. A moment of rest and a cigar, trying to center myself after a day of work and interaction.
I lit the cigar carefully, being sure to keep the initial burn even and complete, as I shook off the cares that tried to pull at my mind. The smoke tasted strong, but not overbearing. I let it roll from my mouth, savoring the richness, carrying my stress away with it.
Just as I settled in comfortably, almost smiling at the opportunity that only a quiet evening can provide, he entered the picture.
He was white, mid-thirties, skinny, restless and wandering, full of unseen tensions produced by his mind. “Can I sit here?” he asked. I barely began an affirmation before he pulled out the other chair and sat.
We existed for a minute without speaking, and during that time I watched him stare angrily to the side, before he ended the silence by muttering words that could not be discerned.
“What’s your story?” I asked,startling him into awareness.
His words were vitriol. The world was against him and he was being devoured by the anger.
We sat silently for another moment, but the tension overwhelmed him, causing his body to strike out rigidly, pushing his chair back with his feet. He quickly regained his composure and readjusted himself.
“Are you just wandering or displaced?” I evenly, calmly asked, as I considered his physical capabilities and whether he was a threat.
“My fuckin’ mother!” he spat. “Bitch had me committed! Whole fuckin’ world just acts fucked up! Try to be a nice guy and they just fuck you!” His face contorted into a different pattern with every word, while I sat silently and listened.
I kept my breathing slow and deep, my minor movements dealing with the cigar ashes intentional. “What did they diagnose you with?”
“Paranoid schizophrenia,” he replied, disgust dripping from his voice. “They give me a shit check every month. No one will hire me!”
I returned to my silence while he muttered and twitched. I noticed his shoes looked new.
“Is there anything that gives you peace?”
“Only God,” he responded, before we fell into silence again.
I let the silence linger as I continued to stare off into the distance.
“I’m gonna go home,” he said apologetically, slowly rising to his feet.
“Have a good night,” I said quietly.
“You too,” he replied, walking away.
A skateboarder moved ahead of the traffic, his silhouette in the headlights made me wish I had a camera. My cigar had some life in it and I drew from it deeply, as I considered how even small cities have wildlife, moving through the shadows. I lingered in the realm of memory for several minutes before returning to the present.
Another man approached, black and disheveled.
“Yo, man. I hate my aunt! I hope that bitch gets what’s coming to her!”
I didn’t respond, which he took as an invitation to continue.
“These motherfuckers don’t even know! I wanna knock on her door! She don’t wanna answer the phone? See if she answers a knock! Bitch needs to wake the fuck up! Makes me wanna kill some motherfuckers! If I had a gun I’d be killing some motherfuckers right now!”
He moved over to the curb. “You know where I can get a book of spells?”
“Yo! Rich people go in there?” he asked, pointing at the cigar shop.
I weighed my words, not wanting to cause another tangent. “All kinds go in there. Rich, working class, everybody.”
His response was contemptuous. “I bet it’s all rich motherfuckers!”
I sat there in my shorts, work shoes, and pizza company shirt.
“Do I look rich to you?” I asked, weary of the interruptions.
“Yeah, you do!”
“Pshhhhh.” The sarcastic sound came unbidden, causing him to look at me for a moment before walking away, muttering curses.