he sauntered up to the bench i was sitting on and plopped the pile of magazines right next to me. he then dropped the big, black duffel bag he was carrying onto the floor before planting himself on the bench as well.
i stole a look from the corner of my eye. at first glance, he was very ordinary; late 50s, a little bent over, a few liver spots on his arms. however, there was something about him that made me look up from the novel i was reading (“we need to talk about kevin” by lionel shriver – quite a tiresome, if fascinating, read) and take a good look at him.
he had a familiar shock of white hair and he wore a faded, checkered maroon shirt. his eyes were sad and large and the brief moment my eyes met his, a flash of recognition went through his face.
if he really did recognise me, he sure didn’t show it. he just started reading the magazines he brought with him. at one point, he took out a large magnifying glass so he could further scrutinise some photographs. he then polished the glass before returning it to its suede cover and continued reading whatever gossip was on the page where he left off.
i couldn’t help but stare at him, just to be sure he was who i thought he was. he didn’t seem to notice my attention although, when he finally got up to leave, i felt as if he was annoyed by my presence.
to be honest, i was rather relieved when he left. the shock of seeing him again after such a long time, especially so far from the place where i originally met him, was unexpectedly overwhelming.
maybe it was because i remembered how scared i was of him when i first laid eyes on him.
he carried an umbrella then. he walked up to the counter and asked for a cup of coffee, carefully counting the exact change needed to pay for the unlimited refills he could get for the next 3 hours. he then carried his beverage upstairs, opened his black duffel bag, unpacked what looked like ledger books and a calculator, and proceeded to mutter under his breath while scribbling numbers into the books.
he did that every morning for the entire month i spent studying for my first eos exams at my neighbourhood mcdonalds. sometimes we got into a bit of a competition to see who would get there first and acquire the “best” spot in the restaurant. i got rather pissed off whenever he beat me to it and i bet he knew full well of that.
it’s been a year since i’ve been to that particular outlet. it’s been a year since i last saw him. back then, i thought he was probably homeless and suffered from some mental disease. he wore the same shirt day in, day out – could you have blamed me for judging him like that?
but seeing him again, at mph midvalley of all places, forced me to rethink my opinion of that old man who is probably younger than i think he is and not as crazy as i thought he was.
funnily enough, the initial emotion i felt that day was not unlike the feeling one gets when seeing a long-lost friend once more. i was rather bummed that he showed no signs of recognising who i was. we could have had a pretty interesting conversation had we acknowledged each other’s presence.
i guess that’s too late now.
and that wasn’t even fiction. it was true!