Fog draped all around her that morning, like thick curtains. She drove onto the highway overpass and glanced to her right. The hills seemed asleep under the fog cover, dreaming of soaring pine trees and crashing waves. She wished for a moment that she didn't have this early morning class, so she could revisit the familiar trails on that hill, count the blooms that had faded and the leaves that had changed, and catch a glimpse of dolphins playing in the ocean just below.
She sighed as the car took her away from all that and into the depth of the morning city traffic. A sea of red lights, and a sea of silent thoughts. No horns. No sounds of nature either. Just gliding pass time, stepping, breaking and repeating the morose code of commute.
* * *
There was no sign of people at this hour on the street. Except for an occasional car gliding through the single lane on the opposite side. The fog followed her off the highway like a persistent stalker, blurring outlines of trees, buildings and bends farther down the street. She stopped at a light, her mind stilling to the silent and timeless scene. Radio seemed too loud, and phones just didn't belong. So she took a good look around her.
Uncle Leo's restaurant sat on that corner, occupying one of the largest lot between the laundry mat and Best Sushi. The door was closed and parking lot deserted, so she could see the tiny faded red and green facade clearly. An once orange banner hung above the crumbling windows on the right. "Champagne Brunch", it said in large black cursive. How many of those had she have? Dozens if not more, always with her group of friends at a chic restaurant near their fancy neighborhood by the ocean. Never at a place like this though. Red and green? What were they thinking? She looked again. The lot ended where the bench began, the bench for the number 23 bus, that is. He sat on the bench with his legs crossed, reading a tattered paper. Even from across the street, she could see his bones protruding under his loose fitting T, forest green at one point, now dingy greenish brown. His long beard shook as he read, as if murmuring. Then she saw his hands and arms shook too, rustling the paper involuntarily. She couldn't see what he was reading, but she imagined it was something about food. She realized then with a twist of irony that that's what she would do whenever she felt hopelessly hungry, like when she had to sit through one of those three hour evening classes. She would read about food, to allow herself to imagine, and to give herself hope.
Or perhaps he wasn't really hungry, there was something relaxed and, ..., content about him. The way he crossed his legs while leaning his back against the bench reminded her of those people she knew who were content with little, like her father. The tanned and deeply lined face, the silvery gray strands escaping from the brim of his knit cap spoke to her as signs of worldly experience and a certain sense of grace. She closed her eyes, and opened them again. He was still there, reading, relaxing and shaking all at once..., hungry, yet content, perhaps. She'd never know.
She checked her watch, it was still hours away from the time any restaurants would open. Her class on the other hand would begin in ten minutes and the prof had a zero tolerance policy on late arrivals. She moved on, promising herself that she would check on him tonight after class. She had seen him standing at the road divider begging before. She hadn't had any change then. She never had any change, nor time, nor courage, nor power of decisions ("to give or not to give?") to open the window and make a connection. But she would that night. She looked again just before she drove pass the intersection, at the old man, and at the sign that said "Champagne Brunch". Plans ballooned in her head then, perhaps she could buy him a whole meal, can soups for later, crackers and sodas in case he needed something soothing sometimes,... perhaps.
Perhaps... , she dreamed.