I sat with my back to a wall of windows and my laptop on the table before me. Noise drifted around the lounge as a lot of people spoke to each other but all the voices were only muffled whispers due to the early hour of the morning. I looked up from my laptop screen, searching for the source of the loudest voice in the room. The man speaking sat nearly directly opposite me in one of the red lounge chairs, back to the bar-like counter above him. He was wearing a black trench coat and had a metallic bronze cane clutched in one hand while holding a cell phone up to his ear with the other. This man was speaking rapidly into the phone in an unfamiliar language.
Before I could move my gaze back down to my homework, our eyes locked. He adjusted his grip on the cane, smiled, and lowered the phone from his ear, swiping his thumb across the screen to end the call. Then he rose and moved across the empty space in the middle of the room to occupy the chair directly opposite me at the table.
“Hey!” he greeted.
“That’s it?” he asked, voice thick with an accent almost like a New England accent but not quite the same.
“I…I don’t know. I don’t know what else to say.”
“Maybe ‘nice seeing you’ would be good.”
I frowned, searching the screen of my laptop for answers. “I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re talking about….”
He tensed. It was almost as though every muscle in his body had seized up at that. “You don’t.” It wasn’t a question. The tension vanished as he expelled a sigh from his lips. “I see.”
“What do you see?” I cleared my throat. “Who are you?”
“It’s… I’m… No, I’m sorry I bothered you.”
He was already starting to struggle to his feet. So the cane wasn’t for looks. Abruptly, I folded the screen of my laptop down. He flinched in response, then froze.
“No. Sit.” I waved my hand towards the chair he was trying to leave. “I might not know who you are but there’s no reason for you to leave.”
“You thought you knew me from somewhere, apparently.”
“No, no, no,” he returned. “I didn’t think once. I knew I knew you.”
“So we’ve met before.” I paused. “Talk to me. Tell me about it. Who are you? And how do you know me?”
He shook his head. “No,” was the response. “It… it doesn’t matter. We… we knew that this could happen. I’m sorry for bothering you.” He stopped. “I shouldn’t have even thought for a moment that you might recognize me. I just… I just hoped that… maybe….”
“That’s getting old. Don’t apologize. No. I want to know. How do you know me? Er, how did you know me? And what could happen? Tell me.”
The man smiled again. “I see some things never change,” he chuckled. “You’re still the same. Exactly the same.”
“You didn’t even tell me yet!”
His smile broadened. “Oh. Right,” he said. “We were… we were… well working together… back in the day….”
“Hold it.” My voice was louder than his, to drown him out. He stopped, stared. “Back in the day? Come on, do I look that old?”
“I just meant….”
“No, no. A few years ago, ten years ago, a little while ago… any of those are acceptable but ‘back in the day’? Seriously?”
“I see,” he responded, laughing for a moment. “Alright, so a few years ago we were… well, like I just said, we were working together.”
“On what?” I tried to recall a few years ago, or even last year, but nothing would come to mind. My memory was fuzzy and his face remained unfamiliar. I should remember an accent like that.
“It was… well, a… let’s just say a world changing project,” he said hesitantly, hanging his head and avoiding my gaze.
“Yes… Like altering, transforming, shifting….”
A thought rushed through my mind. “Like saving?”
The man’s body tensed again. “Yes,” he whispered. “Like saving.”
“Hold on just one minute here.” I folded my arms across my chest.
The man lifted his head to meet my gaze.
“You’re telling me that I worked with you—well with anyone—to save the world? Me? Save the world? Is this joke? Am I on some prank TV show or something?” I started looking around the room with exaggerated movements. “Where are the hidden cameras?”
“Prank… TV show?” he repeated. “I…I don’t understand your meaning.”
“And I don’t understand yours.”
“You asked me for the story,” he said softly.
“I didn’t ask for you to make one up.”
“Maybe I should just go….”
“Maybe you should.”
“This… I’m sorry,” he said again. “I mean, I didn’t mean for it to be like this. I really didn’t think….”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Let. Me. Finish.”
I gulped. His demeanor was changing. His eyes narrowed to slits and his lips turned downwards at the corners.
“It was true,” he said. “I didn’t think—no, we didn’t think you’d be affected by it. We knew there was a chance. But you had to do it. That’s what you said. You had to.”
“You mean save the world?”
“Exactly that,” he replied.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know,” he whispered, almost in defeat. “I know. And that’s what I mean. Back then… er, a few years ago, when you had to decide… we knew there was a chance that you wouldn’t recover your memories. I mean, that you wouldn’t remember it at all… your mind would be wiped.”
“Tell me, do you remember what happened… say, last night?”
“I was in my dorm room… alone—wait, no, my roommate was there. So I was in my dorm room with my roommate.” When he didn’t move to respond right away, I considered the question further. “I was watching TV and doing some homework and eating some snacks.”
“Okay,” he said then. “Now, what happened last year, let’s say around the holidays?”
“The… holidays?” I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, digging through my memories. “I was—it would have been winter break so I was… at home? Wait! No, I remember now. That’s right. I was at my grandparents’ house with my family.”
“Well… I guess….”
“Tell me about summer vacation, three years ago,” he said next.
Silence stretched between us. I was drawing a blank. Literally. I could not think of anything.
Now, he rose to his feet. “It’s fine,” he said. “Just forget about it. Forget about me. Do yourself a favor.”
“How would I be doing myself a favor?”
“By forgetting me and this conversation,” he responded. “Things happened for a reason. It’s alright. Move on. Live a normal life now.”
“I was—am—living a normal life.”
“Good,” he said. He turned away for a moment as though he was about to leave, paused, and turned back. “So… you go here? To college?”
“That’s good. What are you studying?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Oh.” Now, he turned away for good. “You’ll be alright,” he said over his shoulder. “You’ll excel at whatever you do. I know. And….”
He didn’t answer but continued to walk away. I was left alone to wonder if he had been thanking me for… saving the world—as preposterous as that notion was—or if he was thanking me for talking with him. No. I knew it was none of those. He was thanking me for giving him closure after… all these years.
B. Valdez 9.14.13