The Man on the Bench

It was a little colder out today, the man thought as he took his seat on the bench. He pulled his jacket closer to his body and lifted his jacket’s hood up to rest atop his head. This shielding of his face helped complete his anonymity, not that it was really necessary. No one ever paid the man on the bench any attention. Still, the hood made him feel more safe, more secure, more secluded. Just the way he liked it.

He scooted to the corner of the bench, attempting to take up as little space as possible. Once correctly positioned, he sat back and began to watch. He would watch as he always watched, a silent observer. A man among many yet still among few. He watched as the arrogant businessmen walked by, their perfectly tailored shirts buttoned up with custom Italian silk ties, accenting the shirt and sheathed slightly by the custom made suits. They always stood tall and pretentiously, a sort of “look at me, I’m important” attitude. It was funny though. They would demand the attention of all those who passed them by but there wasn’t a shot in hell that the all important businessmen would look back. Rather they continued on their daily paths, the greatest smart phones pressed to their ears as though the electronics were earmuffs.

The conversations the businessmen would have on the phones were always the same, one of four or five pre-made templates followed word for word and usually involving money. And they’d do this all whilst expecting the world to part in front of them.

Oh the women were much the same, their pleated skirts and fashionable blouses. Their sparkling jewels and their skyscraper shoes. They held the same conversations, ignoring all those who bustled about around them. The women were a little more annoying though, perhaps unintentionally. They always had their faces painted on so that they could follow the creed set forth by the media. No natural skin, no human blemishes. Artificial goop, slapped on by the pound to create something people tried to claim was perfect.

Occasionally the man on the bench would watch a family pass by, or at least, he would watch what was supposed to be a family pass by. Whether they were or not he could never be sure but they shared similar aesthetic features. The youngest babies were always stowed away in some fantastic temple on wheels. Sun visors, entertainment gadgets, baggies of food, a nice warm blanket. They were stocked for life while their parents made sure that the walls of the temple kept them separated from their children, kept them away from any nuisances. The middle aged children had their own phones, much like the business people. They’d be tapping and scrolling and pinching away. Slicing pixelated fruit or smashing pseudo candies. They would look up only to snap at their sibling who would run into them whilst staring at their own phone. Seemed like quite the vacation to the man on the bench.

There was a homeless man across the street. He was there each morning, dead or asleep the man on the bench knew not. The street urchin was always laid down beneath the roof of the bank, nestled far enough away from the doors that no one ever gave him any notice. How could they? They all had lives to attend to, businesses to run, fruit to kill.

The man on the bench watched a woman running and yelling. She was in her young thirties, black and weighed somewhere in the middle between average and obese for Americans.

“Please, no!” she pleaded, running fast as she could, a speed by which the old man on the bench thought even he could best.

She was yelling at the 30 Bus to Sherman and Wisconsin, pleading for it to wait for her to cross the street. As she ran her phone slipped from her hands and skirted across the pavement.

“Ah, God, why?” She cried, a bit of southern twang tinting her voice.

She stopped and reversed to snatch her phone then pivoted again and continued on her quest for the bus. The man on the bench couldn’t help but laugh to himself. It wasn’t funny, he knew, he felt bad for the woman, but something about the situation made him chuckle. Maybe it was the inclusion of another phone, another electronic; maybe it was the fact that the world continued to move despite the woman’s pleading. Maybe he wasn’t laughing so much in the way of humor as he was in disgust at the people who watched the woman running and continued to get on the bus anyway, unwilling to pass along what they knew to the bus driver.

“Whatcha laughin’ at?” said a voice.

The man nearly jumped. He took his attention away from the woman and looked towards the person sitting beside him on the bench. It was a young girl, eight or nine, dark brown hair and warm brown eyes. Her hair was in a dutch braid, her bangs swept to the right side of her face. Her eyes were set on the man, twinkling at him from behind purple, square framed spectacles. Her eyebrows were raised and her mouth was smiling. No make-up there, no artificial beauty. She wore a light, white jacket, some dark washed jeans and some purple boots.

“It’s nothing,” the man said, ignoring the girl and returning to his watch duty.

“What’s your name?” the girl asked, scooting a little closer to the man.

The man turned his head slightly, his eyes peering down at the child.  

“Where are your parents?” He asked, turning his attention back to the woman pacing beside the bus stop, the bus rolling away down the street and out of sight without guilt. It simply continued on its predestined route.

“I don’t know,” the girl brought her hands to rest on her thighs and looked in the same direction as the man. “What’re you looking at?”

“I’m watching,” said the man.

“Watching what?” the girl asked.

“The street.”

“Why don’t you talk?” the girl asked, her attention focussed back on the man.

The sound of feet scuffing the sidewalk in front of them and the words of the business people filled the silence as the man froze.  He turned to face the girl, forgetting the world in front of him.

“I do talk,” he said slowly, his face showing his confusion.

“Not really,” the girl swung her legs back and forth. “Hi!” she called to one of the people walking by.

They kept on walking, paying no attention to the girl.

She bid hello to a few more passers, attaining the same result but still smiling and swinging her feet.

“They never look, do they?” the man observed.

“Nope,” the girl smiled. “But you did!”

The girl jumped off the chair and walked into the foot traffic. She started dancing, dancing as only children can dance. A convoluted mix of steps and spins, dodging the other bodies but showing no real pattern. It was the unpredictability of her movements that made it such a pretty sight to see. Someone being human, someone being happy, someone being fun. The middle-aged man on the bench grinned as he watched her dance. She laughed when she saw him smiling, and forgot to watch her feet. She slipped on a patch of ice and fell to the cement. She sat on the sidewalk, still smiling, still laughing.

“Are you alright?” the man called between the moving waves of people.

She looked at him, still beaming, and nodded her head up and down quickly.

“Move!” A man said as he stepped around her, his phone pressed to his ear.

“Parents,” a mother grunted. “Never do watch their children,” she continued, moving the barrier, that divided her from her child, around the girl on the cement.

“Ah! Stupid girl!” a teenage boy yelled as he nearly tripped on the girls outstretched legs.

The girl got up and walked back to the bench. She turned and set her hands on the edge, pushing up to help herself onto the seat. She didn’t seem sad. She didn’t seem to care. Those words didn’t come from people. They came from drones. Drones tapped into an imaginary world, oblivious to the real one they were moving in. She didn’t look sad.

“They don’t like it when I dance,” she said.

“I thought it was beautiful,” the man said.

“It was made up,” said the girl, “not beautiful.”

The man pondered that as he watched the girl. She rubbed her knees where she had fallen.

“Let’s go, Amelia,” a woman said, emerging from the Starbucks building that was beside the bench.

“Bye!” the girl smiled as she hopped off the bench and bounded to her mother’s side, grabbing her hand and skipping gleefully away, down the street.

The man went back to watching. He looked at the people before him and after a minute, he stood up. He turned towards the direction the girl had gone and began to walk away from the bench. After a few steps he looked one of the businessmen in the eye. He walked straight towards the man.

“Hello,” he said as he closed in on the businessman.

The businessman glared at him, his phone against his ear, he sidestepped the man from the bench and continued walking along.

“Sorry,” the businessman said. But to the wrong person.