By John-Paul Marciano
Walking into the student lounge, I quickly scan the room for familiar faces. There he is sitting in a stuffed chair with his feet up on an ottoman. An unfiltered Camel cigarette is billowing smoke from an ashtray on his left. And there’s the familiar cup of black coffee still steaming. Every now and then, without moving his head, he raises his eye level to scan the room. One quick scan and he returns his focus to the novel he’s been reading.
It’s a typical Friday afternoon. Classes are done for the week so he uses the time to relax and unwind. He likes that seat because he’s left-handed and it’s the only stuffed chair in the room with a table on the left. As I walk past I look in the ashtray. It must have been a low stress week. There are only three butts and the one still going. What a knucklehead!
I walk over to the deli and buy myself a diet iced green tea and the South Bend Tribune. I walk back into the lounge. The chair next to him appears unoccupied.
“Anybody sitting in this chair?” I ask.
“You,” he replies without looking up.
I ease myself into the chair and balance my drink on the right arm. I pull out a pen and flip to the crossword puzzle. We sit in silence for a while, him reading his novel, me doing the crossword puzzle. I notice him dog-ear the page he was reading. He takes out his pack of cigarettes and a lighter and lights up another smoke.
Without looking up from my crossword puzzle I say, “You know those are going to kill you, don’t you?”
“And this concerns you, why?” he asks. He takes a long drag off his cigarette but still doesn’t lift his eyes from the novel.
I chuckle to myself and reply, “Just pointing out the obvious.” I go back to working my crossword puzzle.
“Thanks,” he said.
After a few minutes I feel a pair of eyes staring at me. I look up and to my left but don’t say anything.
“You look familiar,” he said to me. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
I gather my things and get up to leave. There’s nothing I can tell him. He wouldn’t listen even if I did.
“Enjoy your weekend,” I told him.
“Thanks. You do the same,” he said as I walked away.
I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell him I’m just an older version of the face he sees when he looks in the mirror every morning.