He seemed to sense my stare and looked back at me. I had just come from the office and was wearing a business suit, quite a contrast with the man’s shabby clothes. His long, tangled hair made me feel like I’d just come from the barber.
He opened his mouth a little, as if to speak. But then he turned away.
I wondered what he was going to say. Maybe it was Rick after all.
We’d grown up on the same street. We walked to grade school together. Everyone liked Rick. He was smart, good-hearted and funny.
He had big dreams too. When we were kids, Rick wanted to be an astronaut. When we were teenagers, he told us he was going to be President. No one doubted him. Our senior year in high school, Rick was our class president. We voted him most likely to succeed.
Just after we graduated, Rick’s mother had a heart attack and died. He was devastated. He seemed to change overnight. Rick had always been gregarious, but now he kept to himself.
That summer, I stopped by his house, but he wouldn’t see me. I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t go off to college that fall.
But I wasn’t expecting him to disappear. I hadn’t seen Rick in 40 years. But I thought of him often and hoped he was okay.
Maybe it was simply wishful thinking, but this guy in front of me sure looked like an old, ragged version of my old friend.
“Rick?” I said.
His body stiffened, but he didn’t turn around.
“Rick, is that you?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he put his groceries on the belt. Not wanting to be a pest, I didn’t say anything more.
A few minutes later, the cashier handed the man his receipt. As he began to push his cart away, he stopped and looked back at me.
“Bob,” he said with a nod and a small, knowing smile.
Then he pushed on and left.