He clenched his grip tighter around the umbrella as a frozen gust of wind and rain threatened to wrench it from his grasp. It was cold, colder than most November evenings. And the bus was late. Again. 

The man stood at the bus stop, accompanied only by grey puddles and a light rain that peppered his umbrella. Even the streets were empty, save for the occasional car on its way to complete a last-minute errand.

He sighed and glanced at his watch. Any minute now, he grumbled for what seemed like the hundredth time. He shrugged deeper into his coat bitterly and looked down, trying to block out his surroundings and wishing more than anything that he was home. That’s when he heard the footsteps.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” said a voice.

He didn’t look up immediately. Actually, he wouldn’t have looked up at all if it weren’t for the fact that the footsteps had stopped and he could feel a pair of eyes boring into him. He turned his head slightly and saw a pair of shoes facing him, beckoning a response.

“Yeah,” he relented. “Pretty as a picture,” and he returned his gaze to the ground.

They were nice shoes. Too nice for walking in the rain. Shiny, too. Freshly polished. The laces were tied into perfect little bows. And they were small, smaller than average. With a jolt, the little shoes bounced up on their toes as their owner said:

“You know, the best things happen on the nicest days. S’long as you’re paying attention.”

Relenting, he looked up and saw a portly old man with neatly combed, shockingly white hair, and a handlebar mustache to match. He had a cheerful set of eyes framed by deep-set wrinkles and bushy eyebrows. His hands were in the pockets of a pair of black dress pants. Dress pants and a suit jacket. No, not a suit jacket; the stranger was wearing a full tuxedo, bow tie and all. The man suppressed a scoff as the words “Monopoly guy” passed through his mind. He didn’t even have an umbrella.

“Right,” the man replied, not quite remembering what he was replying to, and returned his gaze to the end of the street, hoping to see the glowing lights of the bus cut through the rain (which was beginning to look like a mist). The wind, tolerable just a few minutes before, seemed to be getting colder by the second. He began to bounce on the balls of his feet, willing his body to generate its own heat, and silently cursed the public transport system and everyone responsible for it. Where could that stupid bus--?

“Verlust,” said the old man from behind him, jutting into his thoughts.

The man started and jerked his head around.

“What?” he said.

“Verlust,” repeated the old man, gesturing to the man’s wrist. “You’re gonna sear arrows on your corneas if you keep looking at that thing,” he chuckled. “It’s a Verlust, in case you were wondering.”

The man looked at his watch sitting loosely on his wrist. Of course he knew it was a Verlust. They were probably the most ubiquitous watches out there. It’s what you bought when you decided you needed a watch so you walked into a department store and grabbed the first one you saw. Hell, the name of the brand was plastered right below the watch face in big block letters.

“Thanks,” said the man, jiggling his wrist. “I know.” And he turned to face the street again. Except this time, the old man wanted to chat.

“I used to have one too, you know,” he said, speaking to the back of the man’s head. “Used to show off to the ladies with it! I was quite the charmer when I was your age. Pretty good dancer, too. ‘Cept these hips ain’t what they used to be.”

The man turned around again, admitting defeat.

“That so?” he asked.

“Oh you betcha! Back in my day, they used to be top of the line, those watches! Would walk up and down the block ten times just to show it off. ‘Course that was when they made ‘em ‘luxury’,” the old man said, forming air quotes with his hands.

The man smiled. They did make them luxury. Or, they tried, at least. When Verlust first came out, their marketing strategy was to market to younger audiences by selling cheap watches with an expensive flair. No rich person in their right mind would go near them, but if you wanted to look a little nicer without paying a ton of money, you bought a Verlust. Of course, eventually the company realized it was gaining a reputation for being the “wannabe Rolex” and switched their marketing strategy to make the everyman’s watch, instead. This watch, however, was an old Verlust. From before the switch. From before…

“They were the best,” the man chimed.

 “You bet they were!” the old man waved a finger to the sky as if giving a lecture. “Heck, I remember back then, you could even get them--”


The old man’s eyes widened in excitement, and the man swore he could see the tips of his mustache almost brush the ends of his eyebrows.

“That’s right! Engraved. They used to do it for free, too. Oh, you could get ‘em engraved with whatever you wanted! In fact,” -- the old man leaned in, as if he were about to divulge a big secret -- “Mine used to say ‘Slugger.’ That was my nickname back then.” The old man straightened his bow tie proudly.

The man let out a laugh. He couldn’t help it. Who was this old bat? And what was he doing at this bus station in this weather wearing something that belonged at a formal event? The old man joined him, and soon they were both laughing freely.

Slugger?” he said, incredulous.

“That’s right, sonny,” he said as he wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

“Wow, that’s...that’s something. Mine just says...” and he paused, his laughter fading away. Suddenly, he felt as if he’d said too much. Then, with a shrug, the man continued. 

“...Well, mine just says ‘Gael’.” He clumsily unhooked his watch, balancing his umbrella on his shoulder, and flipped it over to show the old man. There, in big block letters that matched the logo, was the engraving:


The old man chuckled approvingly.

“That your name, then, sonny?” he asked, still admiring the watch. 

“Well, not exactly,” the man said, quickly putting the watch back on. He hesitated, pretending to struggle with the clasp. “My brother.”

“Ah,” replied the old man.

And the couple fell silent. Unbearably silent. The man shifted uneasily, hoping to fill the air with the sound of his coat rustling or his shoes moving on the pavement as he turned again to check for the bus. He noticed it wasn’t raining anymore. How long had it been since it had stopped? And he busied himself by closing his umbrella and latching it tight with the strap. Eventually, he resigned to sharing the silence with the old man, whose expression of contentment had never left his face. The man shoved his hands in his coat pockets and played with a piece of lint just to have something to do. Eventually, it was the old man who broke the silence.

“You two were close, then?”

“You could say that.”

“How long’s it been?”

“6 years.”

“You wear it every day?”

“Every day.”

The old man sighed and smiled, but it was different this time. Kinder, almost. The glint in his eyes had dimmed. The wrinkles on his face, which had just seconds before eagerly deepened to make room for his smile, were softer now. And after a second or two (or five or ten) of sharing a space with the stranger, the man felt something shift inside him. And before he could stop himself, he started talking. And by the time he realized, he couldn’t stop.

“He left without saying anything. He just woke up one morning, grabbed a few things, and he left. A few sets of clothes, his toothbrush, some cash. We didn’t even realize he wasn’t coming home until we got a call late that night. He was an adult, he had his own life, so it’s not like we kept his schedule around. Maybe he had dinner plans and didn’t tell us. We didn’t know, we didn’t check. Hell, maybe we just didn’t care.” 

He could feel himself talking faster and faster, not caring whether he was making any sense. 

“Maybe we didn’t check and we should have. Or maybe that’s what he was hoping for. And then he called that night, told us he wasn’t coming home. Wasn’t ever coming home. Told us he had to work on some things. Had to get away to clear his head, he said” the man scoffed and shook his head. “If you ask me, he was just too chicken shit to come back. Idiot.”

He paused, heart pounding in his chest. His hands, which had since left the pockets of his coat, were now clenched around his umbrella. 

“He left everything behind. His favorite mug, his computer, the rest of his clothes. He even left his goldfish. His fucking goldfish! I’d never been able to keep a plant alive and now I had to keep an animal alive. Could barely keep myself alive and now I have to deal with this?” he gestured vaguely at his surroundings before locking his gaze on the pavement. It had started to rain again, but the droplets came infrequently. He played with the clasp of the watch absentmindedly. 

“He left everything behind,” he repeated, quietly this time.

The man couldn’t tell how much time had passed. He only allowed himself to look at his shoes. His shoes and the pavement and the drops forming dark circles on the ground. One...two...three. He counted them. Four...five...six...

“You wear it because it reminds you of him,” the old man said, matter of factly.

The man’s eyes shot up and he looked at the old man. He noticed that his face had hardened slightly but still maintained an air of...what was that look? Softness? Pity?

“No,” he retorted and straightened his back.

“I wear it because he left.” 

He stopped fidgeting with the clasp and tugged his sleeve over his wrist. The old man looked puzzled, but said nothing. After a deep breath, the man continued.

“It’s a reminder,” he said haltingly. “A reminder to not be that. To not leave when things get difficult. Not when I have people depending on me. Not when I have things to do.”

“I see,” replied the old man, clearing his throat. “And this reminder...it makes you happy?”

The man shot him a curious look. Happy? What did happiness have to do with anything? No, it didn’t make him happy. It made him miserable. He hated remembering what his brother did to his family. How he had to put them back together, piece by piece. How he had to carry the mantle from one day to the next even though he wasn’t ready for it. Happy? It wasn’t about happiness. It was about responsibility. About taking the cards you’re dealt and building a house out of them even though your foundation is broken. Here he was, just trying to make it one day at a time, and this man was asking about happiness?

There must have been a funny look on his face because the old man burst into a fit of giggles.

“Sonny, you mean to tell me you’ve taken on all this weight, all this guilt, and decided to wear it on your wrist as punishment?”


“Tell me,” he said, putting a plump hand on the man’s shoulder. “What kind of piece is that to take away from your brother?”

Piece? The man wondered.


“That’s right,” the old man chortled.

“I don’t-”

“Here’s the thing, Sonny,” and the old man folded his short arms over his chest.

“There’s only one thing that’s for certain in this world and it’s that we are all messy collages made up of pieces borrowed from the people in our lives.

“I believe I’m made up of pieces of my mother, who used to whistle when she cooked. Or my father, who used to get a little crease on his forehead when he was concentrating on something. Sometimes I think I borrowed a piece of my friend in grade school, who was so mischievous but so charming he could never get a teacher mad enough at him to face any repercussions.  And I think the biggest piece I borrowed was from Lucille, whose love of all things big and small was so strong, so genuine, it made you love them too. Until her last days, she made you love them too.”

The old man paused, and for a second the man thought it was because he was going to cry, but his eyes were tensed with concentration, not sadness.

“I happen to think that maybe the people in our lives aren’t always there to stay in our lives. Maybe they’re there for as long as it takes us to borrow their pieces.”

The man’s hand moved down to his wrist. He thumbed the bump on his coat sleeve where his watch sat underneath.

“We can be sad when we don’t have those people anymore,” the old man continued. “Of course we can be sad. We can feel anything we want to feel, grieve for anything we lost, and yearn for them to come back, but sometimes…” the old man sighed.

“Sometimes it’s better to look at the pieces you borrowed and sit with them. Thank them. Because ultimately that’s the person that you are, and heck--” the old man chuckled heartily “--well that’s the biggest piece we got! Ourselves,” the old man opened his arms widely before letting his hands rest on his hips. He looked at the man expectantly, a glimmer in his eye.

At first the man couldn’t say anything, and only managed to look down at his wrist. He could see a glint of metal from the watch strap peeking out from under his sleeve.

“But what if…” the man said so quietly he wasn’t sure the old man could hear him. But the old man nodded in encouragement and he continued. “What if I don’t like the result? What if I’ve been taking the wrong pieces and now I’m just a big mess and it’s all wrong?”

“Well by god, Sonny, you decided you wanted to talk to this old man, didn’t you? Now, I don’t know you, and I may never see you again, but now you’ve shared a piece of yourself with me, and I’ve shared a piece of myself with you. There ain’t no such thing as right or wrong here, but if you’re worried--” the old man shrugged, “--maybe start small. Start with you and I, two strangers sharing a laugh about an old watch. Maybe work from there.”

The bus hissed loudly as the hydraulics pushed the doors open.

“Stop number 239!” called the bus driver. Passengers began to flood out of the rear exit.

The man dug through his pockets clumsily.

“Sorry, I uh-- This is my bus,” he blurted.

The old man held a hand up. “No worries, Sonny,” and he flashed a smile, deepening his wrinkles again.

The man grinned and managed to fish his bus pass from his back pocket. He began to climb the steps of the bus, but right before scanning his pass, he turned around.

“Say, um...”

The old man looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“What’s with the tux?”

The old man looked down as if he had just noticed what he was wearing for the first time. Then he laughed a series of hearty belly laughs.

“Why,” he said in between chortles. “Because it’s Wednesday, my boy!”

The man stared blankly, but before he could follow up with another question, the doors flapped closed in front of him and the bus was in motion. The man scanned his card and took a seat by the window, watching the scenery pass before him in a blur and thinking about the old man in the tux. Without realizing, his hand moved down to his wrist and he started playing with the clasp on his watch.

July 11, 2020 00:31

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