The stranger with the cane speaks to Livingston and manages to figure out her entire life just by looking at her ring finger.
Note: Don't own them, wish I did! And remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
When you go to the grocer or even to that Wal-Mart on the edge of town, do you stop and think about the lives of the people who work there? I never used to. I used to be the one who would rush in, grab the items I needed, and ran through the check-out, talking into my cell phone the entire time and wondering if I would be late for whatever I was rushing off to next; I never noticed a thing around me. That's what is beautiful about a mid-life crisis, even if it happens in your twenties; you suddenly notice things. Yesterday, I was in med school, spent time with wonderful friends and colleagues, and had a promising future. By day I would attend classes and spend time at the hospital, attending anything that might help me get ahead in medicine. At night, I would write letters back and forth to loved ones. I was working towards the life I had dreamed of. Then, everything changed, my life had shattered. My husband died in Iraq.
He was my backbone, my support, even if he was on the other side of the world. Suddenly, the color black had surrounded me. A military funeral came and went. I found I could no longer concentrate on the life I was working on for myself. Time stopped, and so did life. I went about my business in med school, but everything suddenly felt numb. I had no emotion, no connection to the world that surrounded me anymore.
I looked at my bank account one day and realized that I had overdrawn for the second time that month. I called the bank, thinking it was an error. But it wasn't. The money had stopped coming. I called my parents, only to find out they were out of the country. I called my sister, and she just acted as empty as she always had. My friends were gone. I was alone in Princeton. For the first time since my husband's death, I cried.
That was ten years ago. Bush was kicked out of office in 2007, only to have friends of Cheney come in and take over. Before the war I had supported him, then my husband died. After that day, I supported the troops like everyone else, but hated their Commander in Chief. In January 2009, things got worse as Donald Rumsfeld took the oath of office. Poverty rose faster than the death toll in Iraq, as the insurgency banded together to form the New Iraqi Army. The economy died and the middle class had practically disappeared, save for a few persons in good jobs. The loss of jobs meant the loss of insurance, which meant a sudden plunge of revenue in the health care industry, the industry I was now employed in. To think I used to be an optimist.
So here I sat, tomorrow on the bench at the Baker Street bus stop.
I don't know why I bothered to buy that paper every day, but I still did. Maybe old habits died hard. I really didn't need to know what was happening, but I still tried to follow the news. Maybe it would allow me to pretend that one day, things would get better. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it just was an indulgence left from my life as a student. Or maybe it just made me still feel connected to the world somehow, somewhere.
"Are you going to read that part?" the man with the cane who scolded me yesterday called out from my right; apparently the incident was less important in his mind than the momentary distraction of my newspaper. Startled from the headlines, I just looked up at him, my mouth hanging slightly open in surprise on that cold, damp day.
"No, you can have it sir, sports don't really interest me anymore," I handed him the sports section I had haphazardly strewn to the side, almost forgetting how precious the paper had become as I still took it for granted. As he held out his hand to take it from me, I noticed how badly he shook. Thought it was cold and damp out, and the man was getting up in years, it caught me off guard that he did so. "Are you okay?"
"Down on my luck, just like you," he said after a sigh that somehow helped to control the shaking a bit.
"I wouldn't say that about myself. I have a job, a good one, and that's more than a lot of people have." I had to defend myself. Though I regularly spoke to random strangers at work, this was different. Here we were, two random people sitting at a bus stop just exchanging a few words, words about luck. I never talked about that, it just seemed too personal.
"You might have that job, but it still doesn't mean anything. When did he die?" He gestured at my left hand, the hand that passed him the sports section just seconds ago.
"Ten years ago. Iraq. How did you know?" I asked, involuntarily rubbing my hand.
"You have a tan line on your ring finger. Also, judging by how you're always here alone, before and after work, you probably don't have anything else."
"I have an apartment."
I looked at him, furious. Why would a random stranger just suddenly start analyzing my life? Especially one who looked further in the dumps than me? I was about to respond, about to insult him and tell him to stay out of my business, when I heard the squealing of the brakes from my bus pull up. "I'll be late for work. Good day, sir." I nodded at him and ran towards the bus, almost crying the moment I got on.
I was almost happy when I did not see him that night after work.