Bitter cold came early that Friday in early February with 12 inches of snow predicted by midnight. All signs pointed to a long cold weekend. When the snow started to fall at noon, area schools and businesses closed early so their people could get home safely. By 4pm on Friday, our neighborhood coffee shop was the only business open for miles around. The owner lived upstairs and had nothing else to do, so there was no reason not to stay open.
The stranger opened the door and brought a gust of winter in with him. Black hat, five o’clock shadow, black overcoat, jeans, black boots. Gave me a polite nod, ordered a black coffee, grabbed a newspaper off the counter. I noticed he paid with a $50 then asked the whereabouts of the Amtrak station. He sat down across from me near the front window.
“Where ya headed?” Nobody in the place except for him & me so I thought I’d be neighborly.
“Anywhere but where I’ve been.” he sighed. After a long pause, he added “Somewhere with hot sun, sandy beaches, cheap drinks and pretty women who like to dance until dawn with strangers from up north.” He gave a weary smile then said “I suppose I’ll know for sure once I get there.”
“What about you?” I told him I lived around the corner and had just come in for a hot cup of coffee. “Seems like a mighty nice neighborhood – a place a fella could call ‘home’. Once my travelin’ days are over, I’ll have to remember to stop back for a longer visit.” He seemed sincere.
We exchanged small talk. I commented about his interesting duffel bag. It appeared to be leather, handmade… had a few years on it. “Pretty much everything SHE didn’t take is in that bag. It belonged to my Grandpa Pete. It’s buffalo leather, made special for my Grandpa in the 60’s by an old hippie cowboy out in Montana. Tough but soft. Keeps the stuff inside warm, dry & safe.” He sipped his coffee with a faraway look in his eye. “Grandpa gave it to me 15 years ago. The bag’s lasted far longer than my marriage did.”
After a time, he finished his coffee and stood to go. I offered him a ride to the train station, but he politely declined. “The weather sorta fits my mood. Besides…” he winked as he picked up his duffel bag “it won’t be long before I’ll be bitchin’ about the heat!”
The stranger smiled, tipped his cap, buttoned up his overcoat and disappeared into the swirling snow.
© Doug Fish, 2013