Just how far is it from here to there?
October 3, 2014
For my dear friend Joice Veselka, who asked if I could write about time without ever mentioning the word. I would have written more, but time ran out.
He was in no hurry.
Should have been.
Could have been.
“I used to have plenty,” he told me.
“Chances to get from here to there.”
“How long have you been here?”
The young man smiled and looked around the town square. It was autumn, and the red and golden leaves had begun to turn loose from the oaks and scatter on the ground.
The day was young, the weather warm.
It was the South.
Didn’t get cold until January 3.
Warmed up on the fourth.
“Where’d you come from?” I asked.
I seated myself next to him and offered him a cup of coffee.
I had bought two.
I had seen him from across the street, and he looked like he might need a sip or two of caffeine.
He wasn’t as tall as he looked.
He was thin as a rail, as my father used to say.
His face was gaunt.
There was a pale yellow touching the whites of his eyes.
“Where you headed?” I asked.
“Where’d you come from?” I wanted to know.
“That’s a long walk,” I said.
“I get a ride from time to time.”
He smiled softly.
“I doubt if I would pick me up,” he said. “But there’s a few good folks out there who did.”
His shirt was faded.
His jeans had seen better days.
A three-days growth of whiskers covered his face.
He wore hiking boots. They were new.
“You looking for work?” I asked.
“Not able,” he said.
“None that makes any sense.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Me, too,” he said.
He paused a moment, then said, “I used to have a lot of ambition. College degree. Job in an investment firm. Fast car. Good looking girls on my arm.”
“I lost it all,” he said.
“The economy?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“The preacher man.”
I must have looked puzzled.
“He says I’m running out.”
“Of chances to get from here to there.”
We sat for a moment in silence.
He was calm and relaxed.
“How far is it from here to there?” I wanted to know.
He shrugged again.
“I haven’t been there yet.”
He smiled, stood and stretched.
He took a last sip of coffee and tossed the cup in a waste basket.
“But I’ll know it when I find it,” he said. “Unless he gets there first.”
“Whatever’s chasing me.”
He began slowly walking away.
“I’ll know it when they run out,” he said.
He smiled. “Something like that?”
“I can drive you to the next town,” I said.
“No need,” he said. “I’m not in that big a hurry. I’ll get there when I get there.”
I glanced at the clock on the courthouse wall.
It was sixteen minutes past nine.
I wondered where he would be by noon.
I wondered if he was waiting for midnight.