She walked quickly away from the courthouse and headed down the chilly street. She glanced up just in time to see an elderly man passing her. They locked eyes, and as she returned her gaze to the ground, she realized his lips had moved. She smiled politely and continued on her way.
She was thrown off balance, not a moment later, from the rough hand landing on her shoulder. She teetered precariously on her ridiculous heels as the hand turned her 180 degrees.
She was staring into the elderly man’s face.
He was talking, no, shouting at her. She saw his face become flushed; she felt spittle landing on her face. Searching his eyes, she knew he was angry.
She held a hand up in front of his face, stopping him. His eyes grew enraged; she knew he’d been offended. She could tell.
She took the pointer finger and moved it from the corner of her mouth to the edge of her ear.
He watched her, his brow furrowed in confusion. His lips moved again; his face was returning to a pale flesh color. She shook her head and held a hand up again.
She removed the small notebook from her pocket, the one she never left home without, and opened it to the first page. She offered the notebook to him.
He read it quickly. She noticed the moment of realization. His face flushed again, but this time he was embarrassed. He offered the notebook back to her and looked at the ground with shame. She turned the page again and offered it back.
He read it and looked at her face. She smiled, just as politely as before, and nodded. He smiled, nodded back to her, and walked away.
She tucked the notebook back into her pocket and continued on her way.
She hoped she wouldn’t be late.
He didn’t really have anywhere to be. He just liked walking. During the day, the sidewalks downtown were bustling with people. He felt like he belonged.
The girl was walking quickly, her heels pounding the cement with a click-click-click. She watched the ground as she walked. He saw her glance up, and their eyes met.
“Good morning,” he kept his voice cheerful. Usually, the momentary small talk along the sidewalk was the only connection he’d make all day. He admitted it only to himself: he craved that connection.
But this girl, the girl with her loud heels and her pink hair and her designer purse, she gave him a smile as if she pitied his desperate attempt at connection, and kept walking.
He couldn’t help it. The rage built inside him. He turned on the heel of his worn-out loafers and placed his hand on her shoulder to turn her to face him.
The look on her face was confusion and maybe a little bit of fear, but he yelled at her.
“What? You’re too good to give an old man a proper greeting? That’s the problem with young people today. You got no respect for anybody. You’re all so self-involved! No respect at all. Wouldn’t take you but two seconds to say a proper greeting. ‘Good morning.’ That’s all I was asking for. Is that really too much to ask?”
He knew it was too much. He knew he should have kept his mouth shut. But he’d never been very good at controlling his impulsive behavior.
The girl held a hand up, and he took offense immediately. Who did she think she was, shoving a hand in an old man’s face? He was about to yell again, when she saw him move her hand fluidly from the corner of her mouth to the tip of her ear.
“What is that?”
But she only shook her head and put her hand up again. He watched as she put her tongue between her teeth in concentration and took a small notebook out of her pocket. She opened it and offered it to him.
He took it in his wrinkled hands and read the words on the first page.
I’m deaf. Please excuse me if I’ve done something to offend.
The page was worn, as if she’d offered the same sentiment to many others.
His face burned in shame as he handed the notebook back to her. He dropped his eyes to the ground, ready to walk away. He was just a silly old man.
He noticed her offer the notebook again. This time, a different message. He glanced at her kind and patient face before reading.
Please don’t feel bad. You couldn’t know. Have a blessed day.
He glanced back at her, immediately finding a strange sense of comfort in her smile. It was the same smile she’d given before, except he didn’t see pity anymore. It was just her version of his cheerful ‘good morning’.
Handing the notebook back to her once again, he smiled and nodded. He understood. He turned quickly and resumed his walk. He listened as her clicking heels grew fainter as she continued on her own way.
He watched the others on the sidewalk pass him by. He wondered what other secrets they might hold behind their polite smiles.