"Wait..." I chewed on this, weighing the possibilities. Not having time to think, fearing that he would see through my panic and nervousness, I grasped for words. "Wait for..., what's next?"
"Oh? What happens at night?"
"It gets dark."
I peered outside through the small windows. A layer of yellow crust and gray dust had taken up long term residence over the glass panes, but I could still see the early evening light. It was only seven, still a long way from darkness. But I felt the characteristic desert night chill, suddenly.
"We sleep out there, on the streets." His chin lifted toward the double door, through which others had walked out with as much ease as they did walking in, filling this hall a short thirty or thirty five minutes ago. It was empty now. The benches and tables laid bare for the first time tonight. I had walked amongst them earlier, tripping over backpacks, shopping sacks, and worn blankets. Their overdressed owners, layering four seasons of clothing on their backs, indulged me in small talks while waiting patiently for their food.
I bit my lips and bowed my head low. I despised myself then, my spotless clothes, my almost new car parked outside, my warm, small and messy home, a short ride away. Most of all, I hated not having the right words.
His voice rose. "I was doing great. I had gotten my certificates. I can weld, make pottery and...," he paused, making sure I was listening, I held my breath, nodding like one of those toy dolls people place on the dash board of their cars.
"..., I taught martial arts. I have skills, this just isn't my time. But, my time will come."
He almost leaped, as if catching himself. A black backpack tossed over his shoulder with one hand, and the empty tray in the other, he walked towards the cleanup line. I stood to walk with him, offering to take his tray, but he shook me away. His eyes flashed at me, young, intelligent, dark, proud, deep, spirited eyes. I felt small as a child, walking next to his wiry athletic frame. I surrendered my hands high and stepped aside.
-- Ending #1
As lines shortened and voices subsided, I traced his steps out the door with my eyes, trying hard to distinguish his all black ensemble from the shadows cast by the dimming light of dusk. His words lingered in those shadows, moving into a daydream, where I watched him lay down on the concrete, shivering in the desert night.
-- Ending #2
The clinks of trays getting cleaned in the kitchen continued, through the night. They walked in, they walked out, leaving stories that stirred me, all night.
Which ending do you prefer? Would you mind helping me decide?
(*This is a true story, and both endings are real as far as my memory holds)