One would think that his lanky frame, crowned by a snowy mop of hair, would stand out in the crowded lobby. Yet most who passed through paid him no mind at all.
Sweep, sweep, sweep – his motions were slow and almost constant. Worn, heavy boots scuffed along the shiny floors chasing his broom. A long arm scooped up bits of scattered litter. His was the task of tidying – forgotten coffee cups left on window ledges, dusty footprints tracked through, fingerprints smudged across glass doors – the marks of a million souls wiped, swept and picked up. A world in constant motion, swirling around the measured, quiet man.
This day was like any other. Maurice arrived just past dawn, unlocking his closet of tools to withdraw the necessities. The ground floor was empty, with only a young woman yawning behind the coffee counter, the pleasant odor of her brew filling the lobby. His large, aristocratic nose twitched in response. No good mornings were exchanged, no smiles or waves. The old man simply went about his business as if he was completely alone.
Sweep, sweep, sweep. His pace did not change as more and more people spilled into the room. Occasionally he would pause to let someone pass, a mumbled “Excusé moi” offered. Within minutes he was surrounded, yet unfrazzled – like a grizzly bear wading through shallow rapids, searching for slippery fish. Maurice paid no attention to the waves buffeting him; he simply went about his work.
Only one sight pulled Maurice from his orderly tasks, and it did not happen often. When a young child passed through the front doors, holding hands with his mama or her papa, Maurice froze. His eyes would drink in the sight, slowly savoring the memory of his long fingers engulfing the warm hands of his only son. He would stand tall, watching the parents gently pull their child towards the public restrooms. Each time the squeaky, inquisitive voices of the children would soak into his ears, above all of the surrounding din and murmurs.
“Who lives here daddy?”
“Can we ride the elevators mommy?”
“It’s so big. Can we go back outside?”
And the memories would break his heart again.
Quiet was the norm in these rooms. Well groomed employees snaked through the sullen crowd, attentive and unobtrusive. Soothing music floated in the air, amidst stifled tears and mumbled sympathies. The funeral director stood watch, directing mourners towards the pair at the head of the room.
Maurice’s towering form was mirrored by that of his son. They stood ten feet apart, shoulders squared, shaking hands in order and accepting words of sorrow. Annabelle - dearest wife and beloved mama - was laid out behind them.
She would have been pained at their treatment of each other.
When the room was emptied of all visitors, the two men stepped away, unable to bridge the gulf between them. Their only connection would soon be buried deep beneath the spring soil.
Sweep, sweep, sweep. The lunch crowd had thinned and he dutifully gathered the mess left behind.
Traffic noises blended with chattering and cellular blips. His broom did not pause, his steps did not halter.
As Maurice’s hands grasped a bulging garbage bag, his ear perked at an old familiar tune. The ring tones were electric and foreign, but the melody was unmistakable and he found himself singing under his breath.
“Darling, je vous aimes beaucoup.” How many years had it been since he and Annabelle had twirled to this tune? Entranced for a moment, a smile peaked out from his graven face.
And in that moment, a tall form, topped by black, closely cropped hair, pushed open the glass doors for a small girl. The two stepped into the lobby, holding hands tightly, both of their eyes scanning the room.
“Why are we here daddy?”
The man smiled down at his daughter and spoke gently, “There’s someone I would like you to meet Annabelle.”
As always, the sound of the child’s voice drew Maurice’s attention.
In a room full of strangers intent on ignorance, the two men found each other. And time stopped.
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