The Man They Thought They Knew

When he walked in first, he announced that he would not stay. Nobody would’ve paid attention if not for the manner in which he said it. He wanted people to hear that he wouldn’t stay. He walked to the back of the room and sat in a table, ordering a cup of tea. People sneaked looks at him. Everyone came here, nobody intended to stay. Nobody said that loud either. They all hung around as long as they wanted to or their wallets allowed them to. Nobody spoke much in this room either unless they specifically came here for conversation.

Some were here looking for peace. Some looking for trouble. Some just to see the world and some because they had no where else to go. Even if you didn’t know who the other person was, you would recognize him. The type you know. Like calls to like. It was, after all, just another tea room.

When he walked in, nobody could place him though they all thought they knew him… from somewhere. Maybe he is like a guy on TV, the woman by the window thought. There were so many of them on TV these days and most of them paid the directors to take them in instead of the other way, like the way it used to be and should be, she said to her companion. Her companion agreed and they forgot about him.

Maybe he was the guy who lived next door, the man thought. He had never spoken to his neighbors. Pesky people would always want something. He nodded to them everyday and they to him and he felt superior that he did not get involved in the humdrum daily gossip affairs of everybody else. He heard the snippets of what everyone was upto. When he was buying his biscuits from the bakery he would hear quite a lot of gossip simply because the baker was incredibly slow in his work, mainly because he was gossiping non stop or receiving information. Or when he stood on the terrace exercising, the two women did their stretches and caught up on what their neighbours were doing. But this one guy who just moved in surpassed the man by not even bothering to keep in touch with those snippets. he was never heard, seen or cared about. well he didn’t care. the others did. maybe this was him. the man started to think about what he had heard about the guy…

the kid-man in the corner knew the guy was rich. who else could afford a watch like that and the phone the man was frowning at. Teenagers knew such things, painfully, as they could never afford them as it seemed. despite, or perhaps because of that, they knew what were the latest models in the market of every gadget and exactly by how many thousands it was beyond their reach. he wondered if the man would let him peek into the gadget he had. It looked like a 120 gig model that could handle wireless from where he was sitting but considering the watch was high end, it could be better. He craned his neck for a better look when he girlfriend walked in and he pretty much forgot about everything else.

The girlfriend noticed the guy right off. Model she thought. Older men were always attractive, especially if they were young enough. Exec hiding out of the rain or wanting a place to make a few quick calls, she thought. of course, if they were private calls this would be the best place. how many people would actually care in a dump like this, she thought, flipping her hair back and completely oblivious to the glances she got when she walked in. Everybody looked, catalogued, grouped and looked away.

But they all looked. They all looked at the guy when he walked in and he sat. They flipped and flipped and there was a glimmer of recognition but nobody could peg him. A kid rocked on his chair, while his parents whispered furiously about something amidst themselves. He slowly played with a little ball on his hand, letting it bounce on the table and considered letting it drop on the floor to chase. He watched the man walk in, announce he wasn’t staying and go sit. He watched and watched. He let the ball lie still on the table, cupping his hands around it. the boy shook his head, watching the server deliver a cup of tea to the man and walk away. He got up, carefully picked up the metal box on the table, opened his little backpack and pulled out a white box. he put his ball away, his parents wouldn’t after all buy him another one if he lost this so soon. then he walked to the man, balancing both in his little hands. He put the white box and the metal one in front of the man and ran back to his table, even as the man watched. He picked up the glass of water and carefully walked back and sat on the chair next to him.

“Give me your hand. If you don’t wash away the blood and put medicene, it will get be infected. I know how to do it. They taught me in school to give first aid.” the boy said, pulling out a tissue from the metal box. The man looked at him surprised for a minute, then at the little homemade white box with the red cross on top. Then held out his bruised hands and sighed “I fell off my bike”.

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