"Are You Him?" by John Sheirer
A family man on his way to work stops to talk to a young woman in need of a friend.
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"Are You Him?" by John Sheirer
ARTHUR HAD JUST PICKED up his coffee a few minutes before seven--one cream, no sugar--a pleasing medium brown one shade lighter than his own skin. He was a regular at the local coffee shop, stopping nearly every morning on his way to work at the bank. He usually didn’t look down the side streets as he walked through the mid-sized city, preferring to look ahead, but something drew his attention this morning--a small sound he couldn’t identify--so he glanced to his right. Arthur saw a young woman sitting on a three-step stoop halfway down the street. The movement of her hands to her face drew his uneasy attention. Something about the situation didn’t seem right, so Arthur stopped, turned, and looked directly at young woman.
She slumped slightly but wasn’t slouching. Her hair, medium length, medium brown, a bit messy, hid most of her profile, but Arthur could tell right away that she was young. Definitely older than Katie, his sixteen-year-old daughter, but not by much. Her jeans and sweatshirt had that youthful, worn look so popular these days. And the clothes would shield her from the late September morning chill until the temperature climbed back near summer heat by early afternoon. Her shoulders dipped and rose slightly, and then Arthur heard the sound that must have originally caught his attention, louder and recognizable now, but still soft.
She was sobbing.
The last time Arthur had seen Katie sob like this was when she didn’t make the travel soccer team when she was ten. He hugged her then, let her vent about how she was better than half the kids who were chosen for the team, and told her about the fun she’d have on the non-travel team. Her sobs turned to giggles because her father didn’t know the real name of the “non-travel” team. Arthur considered fatherhood a learn-as-you-go prospect, so he was happy to sound a little dumb to ease her disappointment. He still didn’t know the team’s proper name, but he came to every game he could. She was one of the best players on that team and quickly learned that getting lots of playing time was better than riding the bench on the travel team with older girls.
Arthur had helped Katie then, partly with what he said but mostly by just being there for her. So his first thought was to go immediately to this sobbing young woman and try to help her as well. He knew she wasn’t his daughter, of course, but she was someone’s daughter, and she seemed to need help. His leg muscles tensed toward the strides that would lead him in her direction. But he consciously stopped his movement, second- and third-guessing himself. I don’t know her, he thought, and she doesn’t know me. And besides, I’ve got to get to work.
He was actually early for work, as he was every morning, so that wasn’t really a concern. He loved getting to his office at the bank half an hour before everyone except the overnight custodians and security guards. He could get himself organized, prepare for the day, arrange his desk, boot up his computer, sip his coffee in the quiet--no one asking if he’d seen last night’s game or was ready for that afternoon’s meeting.
Her sobs grew louder, more insistent, as Arthur hesitated, his momentum toward that quiet time in his office stalled. Before he knew exactly why, he was moving toward her, step by step, steadily covering the forty feet that separated them.
“Excuse me,” Arthur said, his voice purposely gentle, maybe too much so because she hadn’t heard him. “Excuse me,” he repeated, a little louder this time. She looked up, tensed, startled at his approach. “Are you okay?” Arthur asked.
She stared at him. To Arthur, she seemed to be weighing the merits of escape. Her hands had moved quickly to the steps, palms pressed flat on the cool concrete as if to launch herself to a standing position. Arthur recognized the fight-or-flight expression on her face. He’d seen it before--many times.
But just as quickly, her apprehension melted to relief--and then grief in barely three seconds as she began sobbing again.
Arthur saw that she was, indeed, young, pretty in a general way, no makeup, morning hair. He immediately labeled her as a student at the liberal arts college in town. There must be five hundred like her within a few square miles. Arthur had seen them for years: almost all white, though more shades of brown as the years had gone by, usually in groups of three or more, often laughing through orthodontia-perfected teeth, but sometimes deadly serious as they discussed deep thoughts from their classes or current events.