When I stepped out of the coffee house, I blinked too much and too hard into the light, the way you do when you reenter the universe from a dark movie theater. And then I almost got steamrolled by a guy sprinting down the street. I swear I looked up just in time.
I jerked back, and he missed knocking me down by fractions of an inch. Or, anyway, that’s how it seemed.
For one weird split second we locked eyes. And I knew I knew this guy, but I couldn’t figure out how or from where. Before I could figure that out, or even work at it, I had to stop and take in the way he looked at me: like I could be the last person on earth he ever looked at. Like he wanted to make one more personal connection with one more human being, just in case he never got another chance.
Then he was past me and gone.
I watched him fly down the street, a guy just about my own age, his incredibly expensive-looking leather coat flapping out behind him like a cape, nearly full length, and brand new. And then it hit me. He was the boy I’d seen on the subway. But somehow, in just the time since I’d last seen him, he’d gotten his hands on a better coat than he’d had. Hell, a better coat than anybody had.
I watched him skid around a corner into an alley, and I wondered. I wondered a lot of things. Where was his friend, that weird girl? What or who did he think was after him? Or was he running toward something? Did he know, when he locked eyes with me, that he’d seen me before?
Then I got a look at what he was running from. A man with a weird baldness pattern, chasing him, with his pants half flapping open. Cussing at the boy, red-faced and not nearly keeping up.
You can always tell when you missed the beginning of an interesting story.
For some reason I was glad to see the guy flagging and falling back. I didn’t want that boy from the subway to get caught. But I don’t know why not, because I had no idea what had just happened. Maybe he beat up a little old lady and took her purse, and this man was a good Samaritan trying to get it back for her. But I watched him run, his hair and pants flapping, and he didn’t seem like a good Samaritan. He didn’t even seem good.
He skidded around the same corner, still cussing, and I waited. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I thought would happen.
It was just one of those weird things you see on city streets sometimes.
I blinked a few more times, and my head filled up with the image of the look on that boy’s face. He is in some kind of big trouble, I thought to myself. That kid has got problems.
And then it came back down on me. My incredibly sick cat, and the conversation I’d just had with Frank. And I thought, And you don’t?
I walked off down the street, carrying my own problems like a dead weight. Weirdly grateful for that one moment out of time, when I’d gotten to try on somebody else’s for a change.
Copyrighted by Catherine Ryan Hyde