A Familiar Face
Rick grunted as he scrubbed at the white splatter on his Habs cap. “Damn birds,” he muttered. Sometimes he wondered if his treasure hunts were worth it. Daily visits to the park littered with pigeons was bound to result in an accident. After a few minutes, the stain began to fade leaving behind a dark residue.
He arose from the tattered leather chair to peel back the garbage bag covering the window frame. The OPEN sign from the convenience store across the street no longer glowed red. It was the only clock he had. The frigid November air stung his nose and he placed the plastic back over the hole. Careful not to hit his head on the dangling light bulb, he grabbed his backpack and rushed through the front door.
The walk to the bus stop took no longer than 10 minutes, just enough time for Rick to come up with a conversation starter. He noticed a cigarette butt on the sidewalk and kicked it into the street.
Turning the corner he immediately caught sight of a lanky teen. He didn’t know the kid’s name or how old he was, but every time Rick tried to talk to him he received one worded replies or a nod. As he began to get close to the bus stop, the kid pulled out a pair of earbuds and stuck them in his ears.
Rick sighed. He didn’t want to be that old creep, but the longer he looked at the kid’s face, the more he saw Brad. The dimpled cheeks and sharp green eyes resembled the ones he used to tuck in at night. The wavy, coal coloured hair reminded him of the mop he used to see in the reflection of the mirror in their minivan on the way to football practice.
Rick got to the stop and took a deep breath.
“Do you have a lighter on you?” he asked the kid.
No response. Music must be too loud, he thought, or he’s ignoring me again. His last option was going to be physical contact. A gentle tap would do. He lifted his hand and placed his finger on the kids shoulder, causing him to jump up and remove his earphones.
“Do you have a lighter on you?” Rick asked again.
“Uh, no sorry, I don’t,” he replied.
Rick didn’t smoke, he couldn’t afford it. He quit nine years ago after he found his wife’s body hanging from their bedroom door frame. She finally had enough of her unemployed, drunken husband who fed his addiction with her paycheques. The paycheques that should have been able to provide a comfortable life for their son. After her death, Brad was put into custody of his grandmother and Rick took his final sip of booze. Insurance has no sympathy for those who kill themselves, and in a matter of days, everything in Rick’s life disappeared.
Rick tried to make small talk with the kid; as per usual, the conversation was dry. He told him about the ridiculous heavy metal band he was in as a teenager. Brad always got a chuckle out of the story, but this kid looked less than enthused. A few weeks ago Rick had told him that he had been left by his wife for a younger man.
The bus arrived. They both stepped on and Rick made his way to the back, sitting in the seat next to the calendar and bus schedule. He began to count the days until the 26th – exactly one week.
The last stop was where Rick got off, directly across from the soup kitchen. He never went before 7 p.m., which was when the families ate. There was no need to take food out of a child’s mouth. Soup kitchens can’t provide for everyone. He would only go on Tuesday’s because it was chicken soup night, his wife’s favorite dish.
A week later, Rick sat in the back of a taxi clutching a plastic baggy full of loose change that smelled like the park. He didn’t remove his eyes from the forest surrounding the highway, a scene he hadn’t since the last time he was at the airport two years ago. The taxi pulled up in front of the airport.
“That’s twenty-three dollars,” said the driver. Rick counted his change and handed it to the driver. There wasn’t enough for a tip.
The airport was filled with families. Mothers rocking wailing newborns, elderly sitting contently in their wheel chairs, and children asking when they would see their daddies. Welcome Home signs were everywhere, each one unique with a different name.
Rick’s eyes searched for an empty seat, spotting one near the back of the terminal. He sat down on the cushioned seat, removed the faded family photo from his pocket, and waited.
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