A kindly old man isn't looking for what you'd think.
| I'd imagined far more people being on the train. Instead it was nearly deserted when the old man decided that, despite the abundance of available seats, he should sit next to me. It was awkward, him sitting so close to me, but then he leaned in and whispered, "Are you the one I seek?" And awkward became surreal.
I didn't think that I was one the one he was seeking. But then, I didn't know I wasn't, so I just stared at him and tilted my head a little. Who the Hell talks like that anyway? Maybe he was a drama teacher or something. Possibly he was just a regular nutjob The one I seek, it sounded like it should be capitalized... The One I Seek.
He sat back in his seat and sighed, then he smiled brilliantly at me. "I almost didn't come here tonight. It's been so long since I've done this kind of thing."
A tiny red flag raised in my head. Just a tiny one. The four $7 beers I'd consumed at the Cubs game earlier pushed it back down.
"It's a bit silly, isn't it? A man my age... I haven't dated in thirty years! I haven't even thought about dating since my wife passed, and now here I am, feeling all kinds of ridiculous" He grinned sheepishly. The fact that he thought I was his blind date struck my beer-fogged mind suddenly. I should have said something then, told him there was a mistake. I felt a bit sorry for him though, he seemed so lonely and out of place, so I didn't.
I listened for the next fifty-seven minutes as he talked of his wife and her battle with cancer. He spoke of his children, their ages, their colleges, his son's wife and his daughter's awful boyfriend. The boyfriend had tattoos EVERYWHERE, for God's sake. He spoke of his work, of his retirement and subsequent boredom. He said I was pretty and that his wife had had dark hair like mine. He told me he was sixty years old. He said his name was William but I should call him Bill. He spoke of his loneliness and his love of coffee. I learned more about this stranger in the hour I spent listening to him than I knew about most people in my life.
I didn't speak much, other than to offer the usual platitudes. I was feeling more and more guilty as the train neared my stop and the fog in my brain cleared some.
"Well, Bill, It really has been a pleasure talking to you..." I said as we pulled up to the platform.
"Oh! Is this our stop?" He asked, suddenly nervous again. "Me, just rambling on over here...How does this work? Should I pay you now, or after? I've never done this before."
"Hmm? Uh? Pay me?" I was confused. Thoroughly.
It seemed that my confusion embarrassed him somehow. "Ah, Yes. Perhaps we aren't supposed to talk about it...Oh dear. This isn't the right stop. I've reserved the hotel in Beverly Shores, not Dunes Park."
"Hotel..." I trailed off as realization slapped me hard in the face. "Hotel. Oh God. You think I'm a hooker!" I said, too loudly. "Shit."
Bill looked sheepish again. "Well, you told me on the phone to ask you if you were the one I was seeking..."
"Oh God. I'm not. I'm so sorry. I thought you were...Oh God. A hooker!"
Bill wrung his hands. "I. Uh. Well, I didn't think, I mean,.. I did think, but not because you look like a hooker. Because you don't look like one. I don't think..."
I took a few deep breaths and shook Bill's hand, apologizing the whole time. A hooker. Shit.
Now, when Bill and I meet every other week for coffee, neither of us mentions our first meeting, and I never ask if he ever did find his hooker.