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A Sidewalk Situation

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

The street lights were still on. He was taking a morning walk in a small campus town, inhaling the fresh November air deeply. Golden leaves dropped from trees en masse like whirling dervishes. It was slightly misty. The cold air and the weak slanting sunlight on his face made him feel alive. He heard the soft sound of a jogger in sneakers running up from behind him. She ran past on his left. Looking at the side of her face, as if in a slow motion time warp, he surprised himself by saying softly, “We will never ever meet again!”
She glanced back at him over her right shoulder, resumed running and then stopped, letting him catch up. Walking slightly in front, half turned sideways to look at him, she asked, “Why would you say that?” He replied, “I will always always remember the moment you passed by. The fact that I’ll never experience it again entered my mind in a fraction of a second. I debated for another few nano seconds about the impropriety of articulating my thought, realized I’d never have this opportunity, and the words simply emanated. Typically, I’d expect my thoughts on speaking to strangers, particularly of your gender to be on the conservative side.” They were both walking. She observed, “When you say something to someone unknown, you affect them minimally, if not significantly. You might have as well let out a catcall early in the morning. I find it disturbing.” Her brows were furrowed. They came to a traffic light at a street corner and had to pause. He said, “Yes, I thought about how your day would be affected. The spontaneity of the moment was intense. It caused an urgency in my mind that impacted my judgement.” “Did it occur to you I may have a boy friend?” “Believe me or not, even that crossed my mind during that long long fraction of time. I actually expect you to have someone special in your life, it would be unusual otherwise. I wasn’t quite positive myself, if I was speaking to you as a fellow human or because you are a young woman. I suspect though I would not have said what I said if you were a man, because the thought would not have occurred to me.” The traffic light changed, she resumed jogging, crossing the street in front, continuing on the sidewalk ahead and putting distance between them. He walked on slowly. There were only a few people on the street, mostly students, going to class. He was now slightly embarrassed at his own conduct, looking down as he walked. At the next traffic light he looked up before crossing the street, and there she was again, waiting for him, without a smile. “What exactly did you expect to happen, when you spoke to a stranger,” she asked. “Look, my fleeting thoughts were complex, as you already know, probably immature, and not ready for vocalizing. Perhaps to minimize this encounter as far as practical, you should resume jogging, and we’ll treat this as a passing moment that you and I experienced in different ways. On the other hand, at this moment, I have to tell you I’m actually wondering if at all we can be acquaintances, and have a coffee.” He paused, saw her frown, then continued, “I do quite understand the feelings you expressed, and for me, it’s a moment to ponder.” She reacted strongly, “You violated my privacy, and now wish to have coffee with me?” He decided enough was enough, “It’s happened! My words cannot be unsaid. I’ve tried to rationalize my thoughts, I don’t know what else I can do. I don’t wish to apologize for my moment of spontaneity. But, if it helps assuage your feelings, which I recognize as genuine and immediate, I will say I’m sorry.” Her impatience, frustration and confusion boiled over, rendering her mute and causing moisture to well up in her eyes. She looked at him incredulously. But she was also emotionally exhausted. She shook her head and walked away, back towards the starting point of her run. For a while, he watched her receding, then turned around and continued on his walk. He stopped his morning walks to avoid routine encounters, but did see the young lady around the campus a few times over the next year. He never ventured near her. Typically he walked alone, she was always with friends. Next October he was walking to the campus store along the sidewalk of a major boulevard, and saw her with a fellow he knew. There was a tiny vacuum in his heart, a whisper and acceptance of a loss. The couple walked very close to each other, quite far away from him, generally approaching in his direction, but on the opposite sidewalk. He averted any potential eye contact with a downward gaze and walked on toward the store. Looking up to cross a narrow side street he saw her staring at him from across the wide boulevard. As soon as their eyes met, she left her companion without a word and started to cross six lanes of traffic diagonally towards him. He himself kept walking forward, and kept his eyes lowered. She reached his side of the boulevard and planted herself right in front of him, facing him, directly in his path. He stared at her face with overflowing affection in his eyes, but with an uncertain half-smile on his face, at a complete loss for words.
She stepped aside and they walked silently in the opposite direction from which she came. His heart was skipping beats.
After a while, he gestured towards a bus stop bench under a transparent canopy.
They sat down side by side, unintentionally too close, so that their legs brushed each other. He experienced a tingling sensation up his spine.
She spoke, “Where do I begin….”
He smiled, ”I‘m missing my caffeine.”
She continued, “Each day passes slowly….”
He interrupted, “Hmm… is it caffeine or is it tannin?”
She persevered, “but the year rushed by; an entire year is gone.”
He said, “I’m living in this moment, Nita. My name is Bali. I never thought today would come, but here we are.”
“When you crossed the boulevard, I didn’t know what to expect! This will be one more indelible memory.“
- nilotpol mitra
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