The Stoop

So one day while I’m sitting at the Stoop smoking a Nat Sherman this guy comes up to me. Got a light? he asks. I say yeah. I reach my hand into the deep pocket of my extraneous rain jacket and when I take it out, a pretty cerulean disposable Bic is held between three fingers. It is windy and I am nice so I hold up the flame to his Kamel Red as his yellowish brown hands shield it. He starts talking to me and I am a good receiver to his words. As he speaks I wonder who he is and where he came from. I don’t think he’s a student, a prospy I think? He looks young but something in his voice seems ageless, a deep timeless echo reflecting lifetimes of sadness and experience and happiness and depth. He asks if I am a student here. I say yeah. — Do you like it? — I’m getting there. — What brought you here? — Kismet I answer. — Ah, wonderful kismet, and I sense a spark of nostalgia and fascination in his tone for a minute there. Me too, he says, that’s why I’m here. — Why ARE you here? I finally ask the question that’s been bugging me since I first watched him sashay from the path to my seat sanctuary. — To talk to you he answers. — To me? — To all of you. — All of us? — Yeah. — Why? — To learn about this place. — Well I don’t think I’m the one to show you that one. — Why is that? — I am on the fringe of this community if you will. — What makes you say that? — It’s just how I feel. — Are you ever caught in the midst of the bubble? — I travel in and out of it. I jump in sometimes and I get burned and I enjoy the heat for a while and then when it become second-degree I hop back out into the cold where I feel safe. — Why do you feel safe in the cold? — ‘Cause it’s where I’ve always been. — We talk more and I realize how much I’m telling him about myself, and how much of that I keep from even my closest friends. His deep brown eyes, almost black, highlighted from the harsh fluorescent light above us bore into mine as I find myself telling him things that I was not even aware of until they come pouring from my chapped lips. My voice has taken on an unnatural quality and I wonder why. I think, I don’t remember the last time I’ve spoken for this long. It makes me aware of my own voice which is sometimes so foreign to me. I don’t know if this guy can sense any of this but he is smiling oddly which makes me think he does. But then he could smile like that all the time I don’t even know him so I don’t know. In the middle of harping on my path here, I stop. What is it? he asks. — I’m sorry I say, I’ve been rambling. — That’s ok, he smiles again, that’s why I’m here remember? — Where did you come from? Another burning question. — He shrugs. That’s not really important he says distractedly and suddenly, more focused: it’s where I’m GOING. — I pause, waiting for him to continue. When it is clear he’s not going to I ask, and where is that? — He looks away for the first time our entire encounter and there is another silence, somehow both comfortable and awkward. He shrugs again, giving me a sheepish grin. Wherever I end up. — I ponder that for a minute. He watches my thoughts retreat inward for a while and then tells me he has to go. He drops the finished cigarette into the cigarette post and before I can even open my mouth to protest he is gone, continuing his path, heading into the darkness. He evanesces into the fog, and the trance he put over me, as I now know that’s what it was, evanesces along with him. I am still for a minute and then I shake out my foggy head. I try to remember his name. I never got it.

I look down to my hand. The lighter is still there. I can’t see it, it is clutched in my fist, but I can feel its smooth round plastic shape. I involuntarily let out a sigh, stand up, toss my cigarette into the cigarette bucket and begin walking toward my dorm, my quiet footsteps echoing on the empty concrete.

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