It was the hottest day so far. My brand new pants suit slowly sealed itself to the inside of my thighs. Things just didn't seem to like they could get any worse ... until I missed my bus. I made it to the bus stop just in time to see it making a right turn two blocks down. The next one wouldn't arrive for another fifteen minutes, at least. I leaked frustration as if it were sweat,
An older man, probably in his mid-fifties, sat on the far side of the bench. He was handsome, given his age, his hair brushed back, proudly displaying a modest dusting of gray. He wore a simple button down blue shirt tucked into a pair of navy blue jeans. He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. He appeared to be staring intently across the street at, yet another, corporate office building.
"Miss the bus too?" He looked at me and I noticed his piercing blue eyes. He smiled at me, not a full smile, but one of slight amusement before answering.
"No, not at all. Just taking a moment to think on things."
"You chose the bus stop as a thinking spot? Don't you think that is a little odd?"
"Perhaps. I am not from around here. I find the city to be a little grating and noisy, to be honest. But, my daughter once told me that the bus stop was the best place to think about anything and everything. So, I thought I would give it a try."
"Well, when you miss the bus, you certainly have a lot of time to waste."
"Waste? I don't think that is what she meant, but I suppose it is a possibility." We lapsed into an awkward silence. He settled back onto his knees, staring across the street. His hands were clasped together in front of him as if he were praying.
"My name is Joan."
"George." We shook hands.
"Why don't you ask her what she meant?" He turned away from me, dropping my hand as though I burned him, and turned his attention to the sidewalk under our feet. A large crack ran between his worn work boots, stretching all the way to the street. A dark stain graced the cement under his left boot. His shoulders sagged and I was afraid I had insulted him.
"I can't. She died." He looked up at the building. "She loved this place. This city. I never understood it; her fascination with it all."
"Did she live here?"
"She was attending the university. Creative writing major. Wanted to work for a publishing company; write her own novel; be the first one to read other's work." he chuckled. "She was always writing something or talking in little riddles. The way she described the sunset against the buildings out her window, you could see it. Really see it." He smiled at me. "I guess that might not make sense."
"Yes, yes it does. So, you came here to think about her?"
"Yes and no. I want to understand something. Something she wrote in her last letter home. She said she had come to understand the world. The world was normal and beautiful and perfect, yet strange and broken and ugly. Two days later, we got a call saying she was in ICU. I never got the chance to ask her about it."
"The police said it was a mugging gone wrong. They said she fought back and the mugger's gun went off." He shrugged.
"I am so sorry for your loss." There was silence for a minute. "Do you understand what she meant yet?"
"I don't know. I don't know if I ever will."
I looked at the building across from us. It's wasn't beautiful, but it wasn't ugly either. It looked like a lot of other buildings in our city. Colorless with sleek lines and perfect edges. A model of symmetry. The sky was bright blue overhead, the sun scorching. A slight breeze blew an old grocery bag through the gutter. Was the world beautiful and ugly? Whole yet broken? Normal and strange?
Just then the next bus pulled up to the curb; the doors slid open with a loud squeal. I rose from the bench and tucked my purse under my arm.
"I hope you figure it out."
"Same here." I climbed the dirty steps into the bus and paid my fare. There was a seat open, facing the bench where he sat. I wondered how long he would sit there, staring at the building across the street, the weird stain under his boot. I couldn't help but ponder his daughter's words on the ride home. Could something be beautiful and ugly, broken yet whole?
Every great story means something to someone.
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