By Ruby Pressman
There was a homeless man beating out the rhythms of the songs on the radio station at my local coffeeshop the other afternoon. I am sometimes sensitive to sound, but I didn’t even mind — I felt at peace and it became just like another facet of the background noise of the place.
As he was leaving, he said, “Do you hear the beat? Most people don’t hear the beat, but it’s there.” He said this staring right at me, and I nodded at him, then looked away.
When he left, I was left with the rhythm of my own thoughts, some making me smile, some plaguing me. I was thinking of the guy I was dating about a year ago, and how maybe if I contacted him now, he’d want to talk to me – it had been four months since we’d last spoken. He had made it clear he never wanted to talk to me again after I tried to be his friend over and over again, consoled him and sent him flowers after his grandmother died, and sent him a book on covered bridges, something I knew he loved. I knew he was a stoner and drug addict though and I couldn’t be with him. Why would I want to subject myself to that kind of pain and uncertainty anyway? Whether he was safe while driving, whether he was awake enough and able to take me on the drive he promised to upstate New York after I found out he might be taking acid the night before on his birthday. Wondering why he chose to smoke pot with his friends on his birthday over spending time with me. And I was afraid to say anything because I didn’t want to lose him. He was the first person who told me he loved me in five years and meant it.
I had no answer to this question, except that I still cared about him and part of me still wanted to be with him. I missed his sweetness, cuddling, and listening to Joni Mitchell records and Motown and soul music – we especially liked Al Green and Aretha Franklin. But it wasn’t meant to last.
I said a little prayer to God: “Please let me let go of him. You couldn’t help him. There was nothing you could do to help him. I loved him, but I have to move on. Please let me clear the way for something new…”
After I said this prayer, I noticed a young man with dyed blonde hair sitting a couple of tables away, and he was looking at me. I smiled at him, and he smiled back. I had seen him a few days before at the same coffeeshop, and he smiled at me before too. I wasn’t sure if he was just trying to be polite or if he liked me.
A few minutes later, he stepped out of the cafe for a few moments — I couldn’t tell how long it was, but he had left his jacket and I think even his phone there on the table, maybe a book too. I wondered if he just stepped out for some fresh air and to walk down the block like I have done several times before while working or reading.
About five minutes later, he reappeared holding an orange flower. He started walking toward me, and I was thinking, “Oh my God, is this for me? Or is he going to give it to the person next to me?”
“Hi, I’m Anthony. I just wanted to give this to you.”
“Thank you!” I said, open to accepting the gift and already outstretching my hand to receive it.
He moved it away for a second though, and asked me, “Do you know what kind of flower this is?”
“No,” I said, though the flower did look kind of familiar.
“It’s a gerbera,” he said, stroking its green stem with a slight tenderness, and then he gave me the flower. “Just a random act of kindness.”
I wondered if there was more to his intentions than that, but I wasn’t sure.
He returned to his table, and smiled at me again.
I sat there admiring the flower — it was a beautiful orange color, the color of a setting sun or orange lily in spring. Or like a harvest moon.
He rose up to use the bathroom, and while he was gone, I almost started crying. A few tears came to my eyes, but I wiped them away. I couldn’t believe anyone would do something so simply kind and romantic for me. I also thought about the courage and careful consideration and forethought it probably took for this man to do that. Upon returning he asked me for my name. I said, almost beside myself, “Ruby. I’m Ruby.”
“Well, have a great day, Ruby.”
“It was nice meeting you,” I said back.
And I watched him walk away, at a gradual and steady pace, not too slow, not too quickly. He was neither timid nor overly aggressive. It was just perfect.
I sat there, half very grateful, half in disbelief. And that’s how it’s done, I thought to myself.
And I continued to admire the orange gerbera with a long green stem.