Conversations with a stranger.

I woke in haste, haphazardly tucking my shirt in, screwing up on tying my tie. It wasn’t as if I was going to be late. The time we would meet has already passed once before. I was just so damn excited to be there. I slipped on my shoes, pocket my money and hit my device. I walk into the roadside dinner, a nod to Betsy the waitress. Four steps from the door, take a right, eight steps to the booth. I am barely seated when Betsy brings me my coffee, an unfortunate name for such a lovely girl. I reach into my pocket and place a nickel on the table before she could take it he slaps his old hand onto it. “I got this.” He said. Betsy smiles an awkward smile and walks off. I take the nickel back and notice the date of 2004 on its face, I quickly place the nickel back in my pocket. We sit across from each other, the booths vinyl worn but no rips. His old hands wrapped around the coffee cup. We’ve been meeting here for some time. I like seeing the cars zip past the windows. At times he catches me staring at them as he talks. He always trails off and joins me in the simple pleasures.

He packs his cigarettes on the table as I flipped through the menu. The tapping sound stops and I look up from the menu. He slowly places the cigarette between his lips and lights it. Exhaling smoke he speaks in his raspy voice. “As I was saying before- I wasn’t prepared in the least for what happened next.” He coughs, tapping the ash off his cigarette. “The future as you know is a surprising place. Well, I was making my way through the stone corridors. I might add it was cold, but I guess that isn’t important.” He said smiling to himself. “Well with chainmail and all I reach the door to the chamber, I knock quiet like and wait for a reply. I hear her call for me and I enter the room, chainmail is surprisingly hard to take off. And in a roundabout way, that’s how I got this scar on my hand.” He put his cigarette out and finishes the rest of his coffee. I wave for Betsy and she refills our coffee cups “You sure you boy’s don’t want anything to eat?” She asks, she always asked but we never got any food. He picks up his pack of cigarettes, lays a quarter on the table, then stands. “Same time next week?” I asked. “Yes- same time.” he said as he walked to the exit. Several minutes pass, I finish the rest of my coffee then leave the dinner.

I didn’t wait a week, I really only waited until the next day. Four steps, a right, and eight more steps. He sits stirring his coffee, his hair was whiter from the last time I saw him. “So, when are you going to tell me your name?” I asked as I took my seat. He takes a slow drink from his coffee. “How many times do I have to remind you that names are the least important of all the things?” He said as he coughs into his hand. It looked like he aged 10 years since the last time I saw him. “Names seem important, I feel like if we don’t have them we’re nothing.” I said. He smiles “It was a rhetorical question, but if a bird has no name does that mean his song can’t be any sweeter than the other birds?” He said. “Well..” I said. “Once you accept a name as your identity, it can become it.” He finishes and lights another cigarette, inhaling slowly as to taste victory in all its wonders. Betsy brings my cup of coffee to the table with a wink, I return a smile. “Anything to eat today?” She said. “Nope.” he answers as I shake my head ‘no’. She takes the menus from us. “One of these days.” She said as she slips the menus between her fingers. “One of them.” he mumbles. She smiles and returns behind the counter to wipe aimlessly at an invisible mess. “How are you?” He asked. “I’ve been better.” I said quickly fumbling with my cigarettes. “Same here.” He said. We sit for a little while drinking coffee. The ashtray starts to fill when he speaks again. “Can you do me a favor?” I look at him confused “A favor?” I asked. “Yes- I need you to stop spending your time just looking. Take your time, I want you to really see the world. Can you do that for me, can you see?” He asked as he stacked his lighter on top of his pack. “I’m not sure what you mean…” I said, I had an idea, but enjoyed it when he elaborated. “For next week.” He said as he tossed a quarter on the table. I watched it spin while he stood and left the booth.

One day, four steps, a right, and eight more steps. I swear another ten years passed for him as I joined him at the booth. A cup of coffee and a sandwich waited for me. “She finally convinced you?” I ask as I sat down. “You can say that.” He said. “Go ahead eat, it’s wonderful.” He said. He sits smoking away as I eat. Wonderful would be an understatement for how great the sandwich was. I finish and wipe my mouth with the provided napkin. Betsy comes by, takes the plate away and fills our coffee cups. “Now that you’ve eaten- have you thought about the favor?” He asked he didn’t smile like he normally did. “I’m not very good at favors.” I said. “That’s okay, as long as you’ll try. Will you at least try?” He said, again with no smile. “I can try.” I said, a little concerned. “Perfect.” He said. He gets up and walks our of the dinner. I watch him walk across the two lane road, step into a Ford Coupe and drive off. I stand and walk out of the dinner.

I wait until the next morning before heading to the dinner. Trying hard to recap and understand the course of events. A night without sleep morning comes, I don’t even clean myself up as I use my device to go back. Four steps, a right, and eight more steps. He isn’t sitting at the booth, the ashtray is clean and empty. I sit down and call Betsy over. She walks over with her normal hop to her step. “What can I get you, hun?” She asks. “A coffee and the sandwich I had last time.” I said. “You got it!” She said she starts to walk off then pauses with an “Oh” and spins around. “Your friend left this for you.” She said as she handed me a folded piece of paper. I take it from her. “Thanks!” I said as I unfolded the paper, in neat handwriting, it reads “At the end of nowhere is at the start of somewhere.” I read the piece of paper over and over. Betsy returns with my coffee “So what do you think it means?” She asked. “I’m not really sure…” I said as my gaze slips to the cars passing by.


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