Author: Guest Contributor Olga Yulikova
She was at the train station every day. Her spot was right across the main entrance next to the coffee shop.
She knew his routine. He exited at 8:32, passed her, and went in to get his small size dark roast with whole milk.
She waited for him every work day. He always gave her two or three dollar bills and five bucks on a payday Friday. He chatted a bit before getting his coffee. He was tall and slim with longish curly hair. He had the gait of a dance teacher, a soft voice, and a cool computer bag across his shoulder.
She liked how he looked at her without any prejudice. He never asked her why she was there, never offered to take her to the shelter or bothered with any other stupid Good Samaritan advice. He treated her like an independent being, which was nice. He often had a sad look, and she was working up enough courage to ask him what was wrong someday.
In the winter he wore a warm black jacket and a Russian style hat, the rest of the year - a variety of hoodies and an occasional buttoned down shirt. But those were rare. He looked good dressed up. Very good, in fact. He was remarkably punctual, never missing his morning train. On Mondays and Wednesdays he carried a yoga mat; he liked hot yoga in town after work.
After work she was gone. Her shift was 8am till noon. She had a lunch break at the vet’s soup kitchen. Then she met Igor at the downtown crossing to get high and spend the rest of the day hanging out on the Commons. The Commons were getting too crowded these days. New people kept on arriving in the last two years and their crap was everywhere. They migrated from out of state and were ruder and more vulgar than the townies. She was mad at them mostly because now the night shelters were stricter, and she had to go to the woman's place for dinner. Too many women were not her thing. Bitches.
This morning she started her shift at 8:05. By 8:32 she was all eyes. She spotted him from far away, which was pretty easy because he had his bright yellow hoodie on, and he was a good foot taller than most people. He was approaching. Her heart was racing. He looked distraught today. His hair was wet and he had an extra duffel bag with him.
“Hey, going someplace?” He paused. She never really talked first to him.
“Oh, yes. In a way,” he gave her a $50 bill. “I am going.”
“Wow. Thanks.” She was getting braver. “Any place nice?” “Perhaps.”
“Well, good luck then.” This was the most she ever said to him. He looked at her and smiled. “Would you like a coffee?”
“Nah, I'm good.” She would have fallen down but she was already sitting on top of a sleeping bag.
“Up to you.” He shrugged and continued to stand there. “Here.” He reached inside his bag and pulled out a small item wrapped in gift paper.
“It's not Christmas yet.” She could barely speak.
“I hope you like it. I wrote it.”
“It's a book. I wrote it. I hope you enjoy it.” He now blushed a little and waved goodbye. He went across the street to the coffee shop.
She was not moving. The treasure in her hand, the book he created, was a part of him she gets to keep. His thoughts, his feelings, his moods are going to be revealed to her. She will get to know him. She will live inside his head. She will understand how he is, she will be allowed into his inner world, his world of the Secret Life of Tall People. She will travel with him to where he wants to go. She'll breathe the same air and touch pages he turned.
This was the best day of her life. She barely noticed others who were putting coins and small bills into her plastic cup in front of the cardboard sign. Maybe next time she would take him up on his coffee offer? Maybe she would even be invited inside the coffee shop? Maybe he would even stay for a cup with her? Or she could walk with him to his office and they could talk? And someday maybe she would skip the park portion of the day, come back to the train station around five and see him again on his commute back.
And what if he invited her over for dinner? This is just pure nonsense. But then again, who knows? Maybe he will want to be friends, especially now that he shared such a big part of himself with her?
She sat cross-legged pressing the wrapped book to her belly till the usual time, then went to the vet’s. The lunch room was crowded and noisy. She gulped down her usual green pea soup and a slice of pizza, grabbed extra bread and headed to Downtown Crossing.
Igor was already high.
“Hey, I got a gift today from a regular customer.”
“Yeah.” He clearly didn't care.
“Want to see it?”
“No, take this,” he handed her the glass pipe. Hurry up, we need to go get our bench, or those cockroaches will take it.”
She had to be quick. The asphalt got softer right away and they both floated down the street around the shopping mall entrance into the back alley towards the park. She felt good and clean. Like she was a brand new baby just arriving to this world as an unaccompanied minor. She giggled.
“Good stuff, man.”
“Yeah.” Igor was flying next to her in his own bubble.
Their bench was already taken, so they had to set up on the grass. Grass smelled like dog pee and bird poop was everywhere. She put down her sleeping bag. Igor used his jacket. He started to tune his guitar.
She carefully took the gift out of her day pack. The wrapping paper had cool stripes and shapes of color. There was a ribbon. She slowly unwrapped the book and turned it right side up. His name was dancing with letters and the title of the book was written in cursive font.
The intimacy was unbearable now. She held her breath, opened the cover and read the dedication page like a sacred text, like a document of the utmost significance, the testimonial to the infinite universe that connects all travelers. That reaches to strangers who are on time from those who are waiting at the door. The ones that have and those who ask. The wonderful and glorious dancers to their inner melody, which only sometimes reaches someone else's ears.
And when she turned the page to the first chapter, her heart could no longer contain itself. It burst into a million little hearts that exited her chest like a swarm of pink butterflies. Their fuzzy delicate wings were flopping faster and faster. And they flew up above the grass and into the trees, and covered the branches and the leaves and the flowers and the statues and the old carousel and all the people’s surprised faces. A million butterflies in the city park were trembling with pleasure. Igor’s guitar went on.
And she kept reading his book until it got completely dark.
* * * * * * *
Olga Yulikova was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States when she was 22. She quickly fell in love with American literature, particularly the works of O. Henry. Now a writer and visual artist, Ms. Yulikova presently lives in the Boston area with her teenage daughters.