Friday, April 23, 2010
I watch for a few moments, then think, “Maybe he is blind.” But he becomes aware of my gaze and slowly lowers his head and turns to look at me, hand still at his lips. Though embarrassed at being caught, I nod and smile. He does not acknowledge my greeting, however, just lowers his eyes and dampens the tip of his finger with his saliva.
As is my usual routine whenever visiting a new city, I prefer to go out for coffee first thing in the morning, finding places not far from my hotel. I like to watch the locals go about their day and hear the cadence of their speech. On this day at this place, I sit at a small table with a red formica top, drinking black coffee in a white mug. The group I travel with is probably gathered in the hotel's ornate dining room, enjoying a breakfast buffet with all the food and unlimited cups of coffee they can swallow in the hour before the meeting.
The job keeps us traveling for many months of the year. The early allure of spending nights away from my hometown lost its fizzle, not unlike a bottle of champagne forgotten overnight and uncorked on the table. While in the morning it may resemble the drink of celebration, the good taste is gone. The job is as flat and warm.
As I finish my coffee, I see the manager of the shop come up to the man. I am not close enough to hear the conversation but can guess he asked him to leave. The man nods and puts on the shabby jacket folded on the floor beside his chair. He stands, picks up a bag from under the table, and anchors it to his left shoulder by its strap. At the exit he hesitates as if summoning some resolve to go out into the city, then leaves without looking back. There is no tip on the table, of course. Just the opened newspaper, edges marked with the DNA of a nameless person whose story I will never know. Through the window I see him walk away with unhurried gait.
It is time for me to return to my work and colleagues at the hotel.
Later that night, after many hours of trying to fall asleep in one more unfamiliar bed, I think of the man in the coffee shop and decide that while he may be lonely and homeless in one city, I am the same in many.