Oh, how she loved starting her mornings at the fruit stand just outside her gym overlooking the boardwalk. Mornings were so rough these days with problems that wreak havoc in the lives of many middle-aged married women with children too old to care about her predicament, too young not to need her. The fruit wasn’t the draw, she hated fruit. The pleasant salty breeze did not entice her either, it smelled of ocean all over town. No, the eccentric man behind the kiosk was her reason. He was such a kind old man. He brought a smile to the otherwise serious lines chiseled into her cheeks.
As with each morning, the same conversation ensued, with one exception, always one exception.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning, Miss Leslie.”
Leslie let out the faintest sigh, “An especially long night, Miss Leslie?”
“You always know everything, young man.”
“You flatter me.”
“Your usual then, given the disquiet in your heart?”
“Much less disquiet now that I’ve seen you, kind sir.”
The old man picks a banana, seemingly at random. They exchange exact change for the ripest banana possible; perfect to the eye and better on the tongue.
Before leaving, she patted the old man’s hand, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
“No, you won’t…”
She walked away with that smiling old eccentric man on her mind. What a kind, funny man, she thought, always the same bizarre farewell from his always smiling face. Leslie’s heart grew fonder of the man at the fruit stand over the years. They shared a certain bond.
She knew everything about him because she asked—unlike all his other customers who just grunted or lost their tempter as he fumbled through their change. She saw something special in him. She had patience for him, compassion. She knew the story of how he went blind as a child when “my drunken father beat the sight out of my brain” as he put it. How sad, she frequently thought. She knew he worked this small fruit stand, relying heavily on customer honesty, because he could not read or write. “Mother home schooled me the way father home schooled her” he told her. When she heard this, her heart broke open.
Leslie cried herself to sleep for many nights.
All these insensitive people that see him everyday, why do they not get to know him like she does?
The next day, paler than usual, Leslie continued her daily ritual of visiting the same fruit stand where the same conversation ensued, with one exception, always one exception.
“I cry for you most nights, kind sir,” as she adjusted her sunglasses coyly, tucked her hair behind her ear instinctively before untucking again in shame.
“Cry not, sweet Leslie,” his smile never faded, “I am a happy blind man who lives every day like it’s his last.”
With this, Leslie’s heart warmed, mended, “You’re such a sweet man. I’m better for knowing you.”
“The feeling is mutual. And, might I add, Miss Leslie, that your new sunglasses do not suit you. You are better than that.”
Leslie’s heart skipped. How could he know, she wondered? Ah, he’s blind, working senses heighten; he must have heard me adjust them. Her legs stiffened, she cowered slightly. The man’s smile didn’t. That smile managed to soften even the discomfort she felt. She smiled. She knew he was on her side. They had a bond.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
“No, you won’t…”
She slept better that night after her husband calmed. She knew the blind man was happy. This made Leslie happy.
The next day, the same conversation ensued as it had for as long as she could remember, with one exception, always with one exception.
Finally, one particular exception came to the forefront. Desperate for something else to think about to quell the pain in her ribs and between her thighs, Leslie asked, “Every time we meet, you are so kind and we’ve shared so much. You end our conversations with the same awkward farewell implying I will never see you again. Yet every next morning, we meet again on the same corner at the same time. Why, kind old man? Why must you end such pleasantries with ‘No, you won’t’?”
“Because, dearest Leslie, you are blind.”
Dearest Leslie would have giggled if her ribs and conscience would have allowed her, but she cared too much for the blind man to make light of his impairment, especially given their connection.
The blind man continued, “You see me as others see you. You know my story of blindness, why I work here, everything that makes me the blind man you see everyday.”
“This is so true, but why am I blind?”
“Others see your coyness, your bruises and shame. That is not the real you any more than my sight and my childhood is the real me.”
To this Leslie became uncomfortable. Unsure if she felt angry, scared or saddened, she let out a great sigh in hope of garnering something more stable for her mind to balance upon. He did not respond
With what breath her chest provided she said again, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
“No, you won’t…”
And she didn’t.