By. Cassie Stephens
Downtown is the heart of any city, busy and full of life. As a photographer it’s where you end up. There, you’ll always get that one picture that captures this small Midwestern town. Like I mentioned it’s where you end up and as do I almost everyday. I walk the same sidewalk on the right side. Everyday right in front of that old thrift store sits a man on a bench, just staring out towards the street like he’s waiting on something. After seeing this day after day I finally got the courage to go over to him. What I didn’t expect was for him to tell me his life story.
“Sir? Excuse me sir, may I sit here?”
After a long pause he finally talked never looking in my direction. “Why are you asking me? It’s the city’s.”
“You have a point, but I just wanted to ask if that’s alright with you.”
Smiling he said, “It’s alright.” Looking in the same direction like he always does he continued, “I’ve seen you out here before, but you usually have a camera. What happened? All out of ideas or do you have something else in store?”
I sat there in silence looking at him while he still continued to look in the other direction, nothing changed for him I thought. No matter who talks to him or what distracts him, he will never stop staring in the direction of the street.
“Thomas, my name is Thomas. You can stop with this sir business.”
“Okay… Thomas I always see you sitting here and wondered why.”
Chuckling a little bit he smiled from the side of his face. “Waiting.”
“May I ask on what?”
Finally turning to look at me he gave me this look like I should have known already. Looking into his eyes for the first time scared me. They were haunting and dark. What seemed like hours of just us staring at one another, he turned back around muttering, “My ride.”
Confused by his answer I pressed on, “Your ride? So you’re waiting for your ride…From whom?”
“What is your name?” he asked, ignoring my question completely.
“Well Julie, you may know this but I’m homeless. I have nothing to hope for, gave that up years ago. What hope I have left resigns in a ride that I have been waiting for…”
He paused for a minute and I stayed quiet giving him time to collect his thoughts.
“Nearly twenty years now. Sitting and waiting, growing old, rain or shine…”
He kept talking but I didn’t understand him, he mumbled and talked quietly after that. But it didn’t add up. How can one wait on something for twenty years? He didn’t look that old.
“I’m seventy by the way.” And it appears he can also read minds.
“Why have you waited for so long? I mean whoever you’re waiting for isn’t coming back.”
“Yes they will!” Getting upset he continued. “A promise is a promise. She said she would come back!”
“So you’re waiting on a she? Well one mystery solved.” Ignoring my last comment he asked for the time, I told him it was seven o’ clock. He got up and stared to walk off.
Getting up too I asked, “Where are you going?”
“Home” was all he said and continued to walk off.
The next day I went back to the bench to finish my conversation with Thomas. The bench was empty. I did this for a week and the result was the same. Going back the next day I hoped he would be there. Turning the corner on the sidewalk I looked up and like he’d never left sat Thomas. Growing with excitement I walked towards him and without saying a word to him I sat down next to him.
“What, not asking now?”
“It’s the city’s.”
Smirking he said, “Right you are.” We didn’t talk for a while, a part of me wanted to ask where he was but I also had the feeling he knew I was going to ask it. Still I wanted to know.
“So… Where were you last week?”
“The she I was referring to last week is my wife, Ellie is her name. We met at a barn dance in Arkansas. I fell in love with her that night, one beautiful lady.”
“That’s sweet Thomas, and do you have a habit of ignoring my questions? Or is that just me?”
“Just you Julie, I never ignore just some things are better left unsaid.” Glancing at me for a moment he turned around again looking the opposite way. I just sat there in silence remembering his eyes again, they no longer scared me.
“We married the next month, yes we were in a hurry but in love. Also very young…Sixteen. All a blur now, but we had five kids, three boys two girls. Beautiful children. All got her good looks.” Saying with a proud smile across his face he continued. “We lived in Benton Arkansas forever, perfect spot for fishing. I love fishing, do you?”
Not letting me answer he kept talking like I wasn’t even there. “That’s how he died, my oldest son Thomas Jr. he fell in the lake, such a wonderful boy…But horrible swimmer. Never got around to teach him, I went in after him but it was to late. He was ten. That left Ellie depressed for a while, so we moved away to here. And here is where we stayed.” Thinking that would be all he sucked in a breath and went on, never once looking at me. “Ellie got better over time and we were happy, good jobs and good kids. Never once did they get in trouble. Ellie found God a little later… Have you found God?”
I was so transfixed on his story looking out into the street I didn’t know he even asked me a question. Shaken from my stare I looked over at him and he was staring at me and started to ask again. Before he could finish his question again I answered.
“Yes I have.”
Still looking at me he smiled and his eyes changed. They no longer were dark but sad. “Good. Good for you, I’m still looking for Him, but I think I’m close. I wish I could find Him right now and ask one question. Why did you let my little girl die?” Still looking at me I noticed after he said that a single tear rolled down his cheek. Wiping his face he turned his face away from me and I wanted to tell him not to blame God, but he started talking again. “Ellie never got depressed or mad. She never questioned God like I did, she knew Mary was going to be okay and pain free. Mary my youngest got sick one year with some fever, never got better just dying everyday.” At this more tears were going down his face. Wiping them away with his dirty hands he sucked in another breath. “Hell, maybe she is better off.”
The rest of that afternoon I heard his life story. How his other kids grew up, went to college, got married and how he himself is a proud grandfather. But one thing still puzzled me. What happened to his wife? Throughout his entire story he never mentioned how or what happened to her, I even tried to ask him once in a while. Yet all he said was she was coming for him, which then led to other questions in my head. Did she leave him? How did he become homeless? Is he crazy? But the answers to my questions would have to wait. It was getting late, I got up to leave and turned to Thomas.
“Well thank you for a lovely day of story telling, maybe I can hear more later?” Waiting for a response from him lead to minutes felt like hours at times. Never turning towards me just kept on staring out into that same direction, he never said anything to me. Growing impatient I finally spoke.
“Okay then, have a good night see you later.”
As I turned to walk towards my car I could have sworn I heard him mumble something, but I’ll never know what. Life for me got pretty busy after that day. New job and new responsibilities kept me from going back to the corner bench, to see Thomas. A month later I went back to his spot to see if he was there, he wasn’t. Walking over I sat down and just stared in the same direction he always did when I met him. I sat there silent and looking on as the time passed, I don’t know how long I sat there till I heard someone from behind me asked if they could sit down.
“It’s the city’s, why are you asking me?” I replied dryly without looking at the person.
“My husband said the same thing.”
“What?!?” Turning to look at the person sat a very beautiful woman. She looked content with life, aging very well and her eyes spoke for her at times.
“Your husband?” I finally said after staring at her.
“Yes dear, my husband. You act as if that is impossible.” She said smirking.
“Well actually I do because I met a guy…”
“Thomas?” Asking me but she knew the answer already, so she continued.
“Thomas, a great man. Died too young though, been twenty years now.”
Shocked by her statement I didn’t believe it, I just saw him last month! Asking her nicely if we were talking about the same man, she simply replied with a yes. Getting upset I went on.
“Ma’am I mean absolutely no disrespect to you, but last month I saw him, there is no way he is dead! In fact he has been waiting for you! How come you never came back? Where did you go anyway? Assuming you are in fact the real wife of Thomas!” Stopping finally to catch my breath, I looked over at the woman. She sat there staring at me and started to smile. Giving me a wink she began to talk.
“Thomas my husband was a brilliant man, he would be 70. He would do anything for anybody, pleasant and caring also very stubborn. But when our first child died, something inside him died that day too. Years later when our youngest died, he went with her. I knew a better plan was going to happen to me and the rest of our children. I’m Ellie by the way…”
“So wait…You’re really Ellie? The same Ellie Thomas was telling me about just last month. So you’re lying to me because how could he have possibly told me if he was dead.”
Anger was growing inside my body to the point of me starting to shake, how could this lady just come up to me and tell me some lie. Not wanting to hear anymore I started to get up to leave, but she reached out and lightly grabbed my hand. Looking down, her eyes calmed me, I then felt something I haven’t felt in years, peace and trust.
“My dear you didn’t let me finish, may I finish my story so you will better understand?”
Sitting back down I nodded my head. Still holding onto my hand she continued looking at me.
“Our story continues, everything he told you is what he knows. You see he did die, actually we all died a week after our youngest died, car accident. But he was so stubborn and my children and I knew God, so now he thinks we are coming to get him. When in fact we are waiting for him.” Signing she looked away from me for a moment.
I was confused, I’m sure my faced showed it. No longer able to stay silent I asked the one question anyone else would have asked.
“So does this mean I’ve been talking to a ghost and now another?
Smirking she turned her head to look at me again.
“Sweetheart you’re talking to me because you’re stubborn too. You’re like Thomas..”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m not following you. How can I be like Thomas?”
“You didn’t let me finish again. You have a thing for that. My dear, you are dead too.”
Letting go of her hand I stood up quickly. I wasn’t scared just shocked, looking down at Ellie she gave me a comforting smile. She stood to looking in the distance, and began to speak.
“So tell me, who are you waiting for?”