He was thrown off because the first woman looked overwhelmed. They only caught eyes briefly. A grocery bag in one arm, holding onto her boy with the other, she looked relieved to finally be heading home. But her eyes told a different story. They somehow managed to smile at him without ever moving her mouth. It’d been weeks since he’d felt noticed. Even then it was the office receptionist, a recent victim of cost cutting that brought the company’s gender diversity, and his interactions with women, from little to none. Now this lady at the bus stop entered his life. Definitely not who he wanted to be noticed by, for all he knew she was in a happy marriage, but it was better than nothing. The surprise was his sensitivity. Twenty feet away, for less than a second, and the connection rocked him.
As was his habit on Wednesdays, R. was heading home well after rush hour. Once a week, he covered for his colleague who had to coach his son’s basketball team. There could have been no basketball team, but as the new guy he couldn’t say no. He mostly endured because saying no wasn’t his thing, and an excuse to avoid the world was always welcome. Moving through the streets with all of New York could get overwhelming. Somehow this night, just before Thanksgiving, was turning out to be different.
It was after passing the third couple, dressed to impress, that he began to feel the spring in his step. He’d felt it before, once in a while. A purpose while heading back to his apartment, but that had always preceded a new movie or television show he was rushing to watch. Rather than the prolonged, ultra masculine attitudes he expected, men shied away. At a few inches under 6 feet, R. wasn’t the shortest guy, but it was his physique that had dogged him for years. He tried eating more, even doing pushups for a while, but somehow always came across as meek. Tonight though, the testosterone was on his side.
He headed to pick up dinner, the same Greek gyro he called in every week, and as he opened the door was greeted with a pleasant “Good evening sir”. Sir! At what point did he stop being a boy? Now? He put the $10 down and gathered his change. The cashier was the same 60 year old he’d seen for months. Usually, the interaction was less than spectacular, on both sides. The sitcom or baseball game on TV usually got far more attention than R. Things had changed.
Each step to his apartment was a joy to climb. The idea of seeing relatives the next day had been haunting him for weeks, but now it was completely out of mind. Work was a bore, but a four day weekend and the Oscar contenders finally starting to hit theaters was reason to feel good. He opened the door, set down his bag and food, and grabbed the biggest cup he owned, a souvenir from the basketball game his dad brought him to last year. He filled the cup with water and inserted the bouquet. He knew he didn’t see his mom as often as she’d like, hopefully these would help.