The sky was heavy and threatened to spit rain, but the coffee shop was packed and noisy so I took my drink outside to find a spot away from the fray. The porch was old and rickety, with peeling wood planks worn smooth by years of caffeine deprived coming and going. As I sat down and opened my book, Jean Giano’s The Horseman on the Roof, I noticed a little old man at the table directly behind mine, twirling a cup of coffee. Even for a LOM, he was striking–clad in the requisite long sleeves (it was August in Manteo, about 100 degrees and humid as hell) with white hair spiking out in all four directions and a cell phone pressed close to his ear. Smiling to myself, I sat down and opened my book. Between phone calls, I heard my porch companion shout out greetings to passersby. I always worry about LOM being alone, and knowing this one had friends in a community of vacationing strangers made me inordinately happy. Despite my interest, I tried to ignore his conversations, more or less succeeding right up until he began shouting instructions into the phone.
“No!” he said. “You go ahead. I was waiting for my brother’s son but he stood me up. Do what you like…”
My happiness was replaced with concern. He had a brother, which was good, but also an irresponsible, negligent nephew. I wished he was my uncle, or even my neighbor. I’d mow his lawn, bake him cakes, cook him soup in the winter–I heard him shuffling around behind me preparing to go on his way, and felt a pang of sudden regret. Why hadn’t I sat closer or invited him to share a coffee? Why hadn’t I–
“Would you like one of these?” he asked, suddenly appearing at my shoulder with a pair of sturdy, red-checked cushions in his outstretched hands.
Though I prefer the imperviousness of wood and metal to fabric in strange, damp climates, I would have choked before saying no to this man. “Yes,” I smiled. “Thank you.”
“Wait,” he said, holding the proffered pillow just out of my reach. “You won’t steal it will you?”
“No!” Jumping to defend myself, I noticed the bright twinkle in his very blue eyes and in that second, that moment of stopped time and miraculous connection, I smiled, feeling the buoyancy of my immediate affection bubbling up and over my usual reserve. Apparently he felt it too.
“Now, look at that,” he said with a nod. “You have beautiful eyes.”
And this is where I inevitably lose my wits. I am a sucker for sweet talking little old men.
“Thank you. So do you.”
“Why are you sitting here with your nose pressed into that book? We could have been having a nice conversation, but I didn’t even notice you behind that thing. Why would you want to read when there’s someone to talk to?”
I could have told him that reading is my passion and protection, but instead I mutely agreed, hoping he would take a seat. Hoping he would tell me about his brother and nephew and the tasks he had that needed tending. I was more than ready to offer to see to them all.
He held out his hand. “My name is Jack.”
I took it warmly. “Hello, Jack. I’m Annie.”
“Well, Annie!” he said with a wink, “I’ve got to run but come back tomorrow and we’ll have that talk. I’m here every day.”
I smiled, knowing I was leaving town the next day and very sad to have missed such a perfect opportunity.
Next up, why LOM?