Day 5 - June Image Challenge: All of her worries about almost dropping her coffee onto this nearby stranger evaporated the moment she locked eyes with him—never mind the out-of-place top hat he was wearing.
I moved to the wonderful city of Boston in 1984. I had just gotten a job working for Delta Airlines and this was to be my base. I found a tiny-but-still-expensive basement apartment on Commonwealth Avenue (Comm Ave, the locals called it) and rode the subway (the "T") to Logan Airport on a regular basis.
Having moved around a lot...always in the southern states...growing up, I found everything about this historic port city just fascinating. The brownstone apartments in Beacon Hill, the Italian food in the North End, the Red Sox and Fenway Park (much smaller than I thought), Faneuil Hall with its shops and Marble Slab Creamery ice cream, to name a few.
One thing I noticed once I got into the routine of life in the city, probably because I struggled with it on a daily basis, was the Boston accent. They just didn't pronounce their "r's" the same way that I did. It was challenging for me to understand, so I began to stalk conversations going on around me as I rode the "T" to and from work; I wanted to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk,” hoping to someday fit in. I wanted to feel like a local. As I watched and listened, I saw something intriguing.
The first time I noticed him on the T, he was seated in the corner wearing a tattered top hat. He had his right arm draped over the back of the bench-like seat, typical of subway cars, deep in conversation with...an empty seat. The man was having an entire conversation, experiencing every range of emotion...with an invisible person...on a full train (standing room only) where every seat was occupied except the one to the right of him, the one occupied by the friend. They laughed. They cried. They hollered. They smirked. They blustered. They became furious but then laughed some more until they finally fell asleep...at least I think the invisible guy was sleeping.
He might have been faking it.
I began to notice this out-of-sorts-man-in-the-top-hat and his friend in other places around Boston. He seemed to be a regular and the locals would greet him (Always Joseph; never Joe) making sure to also ask how Charlie was getting along. After conferring with Charlie-the-friend, the answer was always the same, "Aye ya know Chahlie. He's fayah ta middlin".
Charlie, Joseph and I seemed to be on the same schedule. I was rigid that way. A creature of habit. On my morning jogs, he strolled alongside the Charles River in his tattered top hat, his right arm resting on the shoulder of Charlie. I had to wonder if his right arm was stuck at that unnatural angle...the result of an accident or some sort of odd arthritis...maybe? Didn't the man's right arm get tired? Was Charlie really there? If so, that guy was a really good listener. I had never even heard him utter a single sound.
Each morning, as I approached them, jogging at my slow-but-steady pace (like the fabled tortoise) I wanted to stop to ask about Charlie and the arm situation, but they were typically engrossed in a conversation. This morning it was about the Celtics. After months of seeing the two together, I wanted to start up a conversation with them but always chickened out at the last moment. I gave them a wide berth as I jogged around, never so much as slowing down.
This went on for a while until one morning, I thought, This is ridiculous. Just say hello! As I drew near, I mumbled a good morning, of sorts, and was taken aback as, with a flourish, he swept off his top hat and with an elegant bow and affected British accent, said, "G'day my lady". It was weird that his right arm remained airborne through the entire gesture, draped over the ever-present Charlie. I stopped just in front of the duo. I mustered up the nerve to finally ask the question that had been weighing on my mind. I really wanted to know about the arm. How did he keep it perpetually hovering, airborne, all day long? Everyday of the year? I had to know! When I began to speak though, all that would come out was,
"Erm, how's Charlie?"
The man looked to his right, for a minute or two, conferring with Charlie.
After a few: "Ya dahn't say!'s" and "Is that a fact?'s",
Joseph placed the scuffled top hat atop his balding head (using his left hand, of course) and said, "Aye ya know Chahlie. He reckins he's fayah ta middlin."
It was nice to be home, now one of the locals; in on the quirkiness of the mysterious Joseph and his silent friend, Charlie.
By Lisa H. Owens
Shut Up & Write photo prompt - Day 5
Premise based on a true story
["Writer's Block" by lisa]