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I sat in my wheelchair looking down upon the nice park across the street from my fourth floor apartment. I’d been seeing a young man every day. I wonder who he was and what was he doing here every day, she thought. Ever since spring arrived, a young man had been sitting on a park bench that faced the ubiquitous hardwood tree. He never moved for at least two hours. Behind him the busy city percolated repeating its daily chore. However, he seemed oblivious to everything except what was directly in front of him.
It puzzled Shawna Franklin. He wasn’t blind as she saw no dog or cane. He didn’t limp or seem handicapped in any way from her vantage point. Indeed he could be mentally handicapped. She liked the last one for the best answer.
The word Shawna Franklin hated more than anything in her twenty-nine years on this earth was: ‘handicapped.’ Maybe it was true that by policies and other things, the word ‘handicapped’ was tagged for anyone who wasn’t normal. She bristled at the word ‘normal’ as well.
Shawna rolled to the special kitchen designed for a wheelchair bound person. She put some water on for tea. While she waited for the tea pot to boil, thinking that she desperately wanted to take the elevator down to the street, cross over and wheel up to the bench and say: “good morning.”
Her cell went off breaking her thought process. She saw it was her best friend Karlie. “Is he there now,” she asked. Karlie called every morning to see if the mysterious man was sitting on the park bench as usual.
“Yes Karlie, he’s there as usual. For the life of me I wonder what he’s doing there every day. He never turns his head and even if an emergency vehicle goes by, he doesn’t even turn around to look”
“How long has it been now since he bought an interest in that particular bench,” asked Karlie.
“I didn’t mark it on the calendar, but at least a month now without missing a day. He comes about the same time; give or take a few minutes. That means he reasons in his mind as to what to do and where to go. I wish I were a little braver so I could go across the street and say hi.”
“I could come over on my lunch break and we both could go see him. I could push you and pretend we need a break so we could sit beside him,” said Karlie.
“I’ve seen a few people ask him for the time. He looks at his wrist watch and says the time,” said Shawna ignoring Karlie suggestion to meet the man.
“Well, back to work now. How’s your new article coming along?”
“Good. I should put the final polish on it before sending it off to my agent,” said Shawna.
“Are we still on for margaritas at that Mexican joint just down the street for you this evening?”
“I’ll meet you there at 5:30. Any changes call me. Bye Karlie”.
With her mug full of tea, resting in her cup holder she wheeled back to the window. The mysterious Mr. X was still there.
She noticed he dressed fairly well. Today was warm and sunny. He had tan pants on with a blue navy colored wind breaker. She knew for sure he had a full head of black hair, but she’d only seen him from the side, not full faced, so details were missing about his facial features. Other than that, he looked average or little taller than average, but trim in all respects. When he left the bench, his strides were about what others would take when walking with the foot traffic.
She sipped her tea and inwardly smiled thinking it was her and Karlie that were abnormal here, not the person on the park bench. Shawna glanced at her wall clock over her computer seeing it just before 11 am. He’d be leaving soon, she thought.
She’d no more thought that when Mr. X stood up, gave a slight stretch, turned to face the street. She saw him raise his head and his dark eyes locked onto hers. She gasped, but didn’t break the connection. She saw his face break into a small smile. With two fingers he saluted her and walked off.
She looked down seeing her hands with a death grip on her arm rests. White knuckles threatened to break through her skin. After the gasp, she forgot to breathe. Her auto system took over the job of breathing and her heart slowly returned to normal. The strange thing she felt was the fact that maybe she knew the guy or he knew her? But, she’d received a good look at his face and it didn’t stir any past memories of folks she’d met. You could count on one hand her friends and acquaintances outside of her family. That would include her agent and publisher.
Shawna reached for her mug of tea and was surprised that she wasn’t shaking more from the shock of knowing Mr. X was aware of her staring at him. She reached for her cell to call Karlie, but decided to surprise her at happy hour. “Well, it’s time to go to work girl,” she said to the silent room.
Shawna Franklin wrote articles about exotic places around the world. The irony was that she’d never been to any of the places she wrote about. However, with her computer and the gift of God, who deprived her of legs for walking, but gave her a sixth sense of place. All she had to do was look at a scenic picture, locate it on Earth’s L & L, view some local population, check the weather and she could be there. She described it to her friend Karlie as if she were there standing in a village, town, market, beach, mountain or anywhere within the picture.
All Shawna had to do was close her eyes, take a big lung full of air through her nose detecting all the smells of the area. In a market she could hear the sounds of people hawking their wares, customers haggling over price, kids crying or kids laughing. Additionally she could smell the local food cooking and then she’d research the item on her computer. Once all senses were satisfied, she wrote the article using a fictional character to describe that particular place.
Both her agent and publisher knew of her talent and made money off her gift. The income was good, but Shawna wasn’t among the rich, but she lived comfortably in her apartment.
At 5:15 Shawna rolled into the Mexican restaurant and bar. It was handicap friendly and also it was a darn fine place to eat and drink. It was her favorite hangout place. The owner, a born and bred Mexican, had his staff reserve a table for Shawna and her friend every Friday evening. Shawna loved the place and when she entered the stress of the day was left at the door and it was replaced by a big smile.
Jorge led the way as usual to her table. He always made sure the busy happy hour crowd made room for her wheelchair. With a friendly smile he looked at her for a bar order. He said, in broken English, “Same, la senorita?”
“Yes, please and por va vor, if I’ve got it right this time Jorge?”
“Muy bien. Berry good.” He dashed off not wanting to practice anymore English or teach Spanish either. The bar was packed as usual. Her margarita arrived at the same time Karlie sat down in a flourish as if she was just dragged out of an important meeting. Karlie was receptionist and secretary to a small startup company fighting to make an inroad into the lucrative communication market.
“Hey, you got your drink very fast. What about me,” she said coyly as she nodded to Jorge the same for her. “Tell me more about the mysterious man in the park.”
“I should wait until you’ve had a drink but, you’re not going to believe this—Mr. X when he stood up-he looked right at me smiled, and gave me a two finger salute!”
“Go away, your jerking my chain. Are you serious? I’m moving in right away. Is he gorgeous or what does he look like in the face,” asked Karlie grabbing Shawna’s glass sucking down a healthy drink of strawberry margarita.
“He’s nice looking. White teeth, smile lines, dark eyes and that’s about it. I’m four floors up remember,” said Shawna.
“What does he do and why does he always sit there every day,” asked Karlie.
“Your guess is as good as mine. If I was brave and had some real reason to find out, I’d go see him tomorrow.” Jorge delivered the drink and took off as someone was calling his name.
“Would you mind Shawna if I came over in the morning and see what he looks like? I’ll pass through the park being discreet, I promise.”
“Just don’t let him see you enter my building. Also you can’t look out my window as he might put two and two together. What if he’s a serial killer or rapist? We’ve no idea who or what he is Karlie.”
Shawna sat at her window Saturday morning feeding her birds. She’d had a special bird feeder made so the birds wouldn’t send bird food down upon her lower neighbors. In a city with noise from traffic coming and going, the sound of birds singing was as close to nature as she could get.
With one eye on the birds and the other on the park bench she waited for the mysterious man to show up. She and Karlie thought 10 am would be perfect timing. Well, her wall clock said a little past the hour and no Mr. X. She did see Karlie strolling through the park under the old maple trees following a well worn path. When she reached the street, she about face and went back, wondering where he was.
“This is really strange Karlie,” said Shawna as she made hot water for tea. “He’s hasn’t missed a day in a month. Maybe that two finger salute was good bye.”
“I’m depressed,” said Karlie. “Our lives are so boring and this was the stimulate we needed to feel good about ourselves. Now we’re back to the same old grind. You got any brandy for that tea?”
The Week Next
By Friday Shawna was back in the groove writing and trying not to think of the missing stranger. However, for some reason he’d piqued her interest, but why, is what she couldn’t put her finger on.
She tried hard to think back if there was anyone in her life she remembered that looked like him. It was no good, she thought, I’m just no good with faces, but places no problem. She could remember them very well. Maybe she’d seen him in a photograph somewhere along the way doing an article.
Shawna saved and rolled over to the window. Looking down on the park she saw something lying on the bench. Like a good snoop, she kept a set of binoculars sitting nearby. She said they were for bird watching, but they doubled for both birds and people. She focused on the bench seeing a long stemmed white rose placed exactly where he always sat: in the middle.
She quickly scanned the area and didn’t see her stranger. She thought, I wonder if that rose is for me.
Out the door she went to the elevator. With arms of muscle she hurried out the front door to the street corner. The light turned green and she was across the street before the others had hardly begun. A right turn and she coasted up to the park bench with her eyes riveted on the rose.
Shawna was breathing hard, but it felt good. For some reason, the notion of the white rose was the catalyst that made her visit the park. Her focus and concentration was solely on the rose. She heard nor felt anything around her. This was her little world for the moment. How much time passed, is not known before she reached out and picked up the rose.
She heard, but didn’t hear, “I knew you’d come for the white rose,” he said. My name is Albert Foster Ms. Franklin. I thought this the best way for us to meet. I think we can enjoy a fruitful relationship. Do you agree?”
Shawna looked up into Albert’s eyes and her six sense told her this was what she’d been looking for out the window.