Alice sat on a bench, against a wall, under the shade of the tree to her right, and the tree to her left, and the trees lining the wall behind her. She opened her lunch bag to pull out a tuna sandwich she had packed the night before. It was her routine action of her routine day of her routine life.
She took a bite of the sandwich then raised her head to watch people strolling on the wide, brick sidewalk. As she started to focus on a man dressed in khaki pants and a casual shirt, Alice found him looking at her. They both jerked their heads away and looked in different directions. Alice’s face flushed red in embarrassment. After daring to look back again, she saw the man had continued walking and was fading into the distance. Alice sighed. Cautiously resuming her people-watching, she finished lunch without further incident and went back to work.
Feeling confident that she would not see the man again, Alice sat on her usual bench the next day. She took a bite of her sandwich. The man did not appear. She glanced about as she chewed then swallowed. As she raised the sandwich for a second bite, the man came into view. Their eyes locked upon each other. Alice thought it would be foolish to turn away again, so she smiled politely. He smiled, nodded and continued his walk. She finished her lunch then returned to work.
Over the weekend, thoughts about the lunch encounters interrupted the normally methodical execution of her chores. The dreamy way she kept feeling, however, would quickly be displaced by self-reproach for getting distracted from the tasks at hand. So on Monday when Alice saw the man coming in the distance, her heart rate jumped and her palms felt wet. “Get ahold of yourself,” she chided. “Quit acting like a schoolgirl. You need only smile politely.” And that’s what she did. He smiled, nodded his head and kept walking.
For a month, weather permitting, this became part of the daily routine for Alice: lunch, smile, smile, nod. The complacent structure of her life fell back into balance, until the day the stranger did not show up. “Odd,” thought Alice. “Oh, he’s probably just taking the day off from work.”
One day turned into three and Alice found that she missed the man whose habits seemed as fastidious as her own. A week went by, then two, causing Alice to worry and hope he was okay.
On Wednesday of the third week, Alice sat on her bench and heard a strange sound. Clump then a footstep. Clump then step. Clump then step. Alice turned, looking for the sound, and saw the man walking much slower than his usual pace. A cast on his left foot made the reason clear. Alice’s emotions swirled as she felt both happy to see him and concerned over what happened to his foot. Fear quickly took over as the man left the brick walkway and made his way toward her.
“Hello,” he said after stopping a few feet in front of Alice. He looked more timid and shy than she imagined of him from afar.
“Hello,” she said as her mouth went dry.
“This is only my third day with this walking cast and I think this is as far as I should go.” He cleared his throat. “Do you mind if I share your bench for lunch?”
“Please do,” she said smiling politely.
He smiled, nodded, and joined her on the bench.