The Old Man and My Assumptions
The last day of the year. Our last minute effort to collect a beverage for the night's events brought me to you.
The grocery store a buzz of positive chatter and whipping cart wheels, the celebration of the year's birthday on everyone's mind. Smiles a little more in abundance and our clothes a little more fine than usual for the store. At the end of the frozen food aisle I first see you.
Something about your presence catches me and I stare, longer than socially acceptable. Your hair a balding mid-storm mist on your weathered scalp. Your size pulling you tight in places and saggy in others. The sweater comfortable, practical, covered with a coat probably closer to my age than my niece's.
Something about the way you caress the bag of tortilla chips from the display. You consider an unplanned purchase, something special for the night. "I think I just might," I hear you say in your thoughts as I watch you examine the bag's words and promises. I reply "No, don't get the that. Not tonight. Get something truly special, something longer waited for, something that only tonight deserves."
It occurs to me that you don't explore. Your life has not permitted such a luxury. You haven't tried the percorino or pancetta, the herbes de provence or the shallots. So tonight, recognizing its significance, you consider a break from the routine, an indulgence of chips and dips.
Something about you looks lonely, not just alone. Your casual attire at this hour tells me you have no where to go. But more than that, you have no one to go to. I catch myself. "How can I think this? What do I know?" I come back with, "no one with people to see shops alone at that pace on a day like this."
Something is not right. The wrist cocked into your hip settles into your stance as you make no rush in your tortilla chip deliberation. I see it. Your fingers play an invisible piano. Your nerves, unlike you, can't manage to stop to rest in their old age. I wish like a god I could swoop in and calm your troubled hands. Your trembles remind me of my grandpa's hands, now several years gone. A pang fills my throat. I'm caught off guard as I feel for you a little bit of what I feel for him. "Are you someone's grandfather? Will they miss you when you leave? Will they wish they had spent more time with you, asked you more questions, understood better those hands?"
Now as I stand at the touch screen of self-checkout, you continue to distract me. "Kenneth, what is it?" "There's something about that old man. I don't know. Sorry." I pat my pockets, searching for my wallet as your careful evaluation has moved on to the rotisserie chicken, kept fresh by plastic and light, not far from the chips. Maybe a better choice.
The night goes well. Games to play, friends to see, treats to consume, fireworks to light, a midnight to honor. And you are there for it all, carried in my thoughts and assumptions.