I sat eating my Big Mac, playing Tiny Death Star on my iPhone lost in my own personal malaise. I was pondering the loss of so many relationships that initially, seemed as if they could never end. I was contemplating my mother’s slow healing, compound fracture and how I wasn’t ready for her to give up just yet. I wondered if my new used car would become a money pit and how was going to afford to get the old Saab running right so Heather could drive a more reliable car to her night gig.
My quiet contemplation was broken by a tattooed twenty-something charging through the door followed by an old man moving slowly behind him, a dog-eared notebook under one arm and what appeared to be sleeping supplies under the other. The old man was talking up a storm to some unseen person. He mumbled in a language only known to him and the ghost that only he could see.
The kid walked right up to the counter and placed his order with blinding speed as if he was late for a CeeLo concert and while he waited for his food, he eyed the old man. I wondered what kind of trouble I was about to witness. I knew I’d be getting involved because that’s what I do. I’m not a spectator.
The old man was focussed on his invisible friend and seemed hell bent on not making eye contact with anyone in the joint but all eyes were on him. He stood near the soda machine, working out some details about something that only he understood. He seemed to be getting what must have been good advice from the ether because he laughed a few times and nodded vigorously in his companion’s ghostly direction which was situated conveniently away from us all.
A tray was set on the counter as the minimum wage employee called out the number 315. The kid snagged the tray in one hand and the empty cup in the other and slid right up to the old man causing him to flinch as he let out a preternatural grunt.
“Which flavor you like, man?” blurted the young man.
After a moment of confusion a sliver of coherence slipped in just long enough for the old guy to say, “Sprite! Who don’t drink Sprite?!” And he turned away as quickly as his wretched body would allow and rounded the corner, shuffling his way to the seat that would place him as far from the rest of us as he could get.
I watched him situate his notebook which had a crude pen drawing of what appeared to be a woman with the words, “Keep It Together” scratched beneath in 1st grade level handwriting. He resumed his discussion but this time, with his notebook. The ghost must have moved onto the page he turned to.
The kid finished filling his Sprite, capped it and stabbed the lid with a straw and made his way to the man’s table, causing the man to rise to his feet as if he were ready to defend the small island and his pen and ink lady had staked claim to and in the moment, everything became instantly clear to me.
Twenty-Something sat the meal on the old man’s table and gently placed his arm around the man to help guide him to his seat. He said, “Stay strong, brother.”
My eyes filled and I was instantly ashamed for believing that this boy could do anyone harm. I had no idea he had met that man on the street where he invited him into the warmth of a McDonald’s restaurant where he would see to it that the man had a meal tonight.
I was also ashamed that only moments ago, I was sad.
I walked out of that building with no money in my pocket because I sat a small wedge of cash on the man’s table as I walked by and as I was making my way out the door, the kid was behind me, on the way to whatever life he’s fortunate enough to have. All I said was, “That was beautiful”. He thanked me and jumped in his parent’s SUV and drove away. The music rattling his windows wasn’t Ceelo.