Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Predicament (03/01/12)
TITLE: Thanks for Slowing Down
By Hiram Claudio
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His was a good life. He had a secure job, a wonderful wife, three great kids, and a social life that kept him busy. Yet, he always seemed unhappy. He constantly felt under pressure. He always felt … behind.
On this particular Friday afternoon, he left his midtown Manhattan office as usual. His hope was to truly relax this weekend. Perhaps he’d take his wife out to dinner or play video games with his kids. But first, he had to get home.
He headed for the subway. His thought was to get to Penn Station and catch an earlier train home. Tony hated missing trains. Missing a train always threw him completely off balance.
As he approached the subway entrance, a homeless was man sitting there. He’d always ignored the homeless. But this time, as he drew closer, the man looked up. As their eyes met, something jarred Tony. For a moment, he cared. But stopping to talk would make him late. So he dismissed the sensation.
Just as he got to the platform, the subway doors closed.
“AAARRRRRGGGG!!!! That’s what I get for glancing at that homeless guy.” The next train arrived five minutes later.
He got to Times Square quickly. He exited and ran through the station to catch another train on a different line. As he neared the staircase, he saw another homeless man.
“Oh no. Not this time.” But as he got close, he noticed, “Hey, he looks exactly like the other guy.”
Tony couldn’t figure out how it could be the same man. He paused for a moment to get a better look. The man looked identical.
“Are you following me?”
“I just saw you at the station on Lexington and 53rd.”
“Sir, I’m just trying to get some change so I can eat. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Tony realized how insane he sounded and left. He arrived at the subway platform just as the doors were closing.
“AAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hate this! Why did I stop and talk to that guy?” Even though the following train arrived five minutes later, Tony was upset. The next stop on this train was Penn Station.
As the train arrived, he exited quickly. He had a few minutes to catch his train. He ran through the station, weaving through the crowds. He glanced at the information sign, seeing that his train was on track eight.
As he approached the track, another homeless man was sitting at the entrance to the staircase.
“Why don’t they do something about these people? Hey, wait a minute.”
Just then Tony noticed that the man looked familiar. He looked like the guy from the Times Square station and like the man from Lexington Avenue.
“This is insane. I’m barely able to move this quickly.” But without question, this clearly appeared to be the same man.
“Hey. I don’t know what your racket is but …”
“You’re following me! I don’t know how but you’ve been stalking me since I left my office.”
“Just leave me alone, okay?” The man lowered his head. In a single moment, Tony could sense the dejection and pain.
“Hey, I’m sorry.”
“All you care about is your life and making your train. You miss a connection and that’s your major problem. I wish I had a problem like that. I wish I had a place to go.”
Tony felt awful. “You’re right, I was heartless. I had no right to take out my frustrations on you. Can I buy you a meal?”
The man smiled. “I am hungry.”
Tony quickly went to a local fast food vendor and purchased a cheeseburger meal.
“Here you go. Sorry for the way I behaved.”
“Guess I should be used to it. Thanks for the food and for slowing down.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I do appreciate the food. But I also appreciate someone slowing down and realizing I’m here. I’m sure it caused you all kinds of delays. But it’s nice to be noticed.”
Tony smiled. “I guess I look at all my stuff as catastrophic when your greatest dilemma is simply being noticed. Thank you for slowing me down.”
Tony left the man, rushed down the stairs and … saw the train doors close just as he got there. He laughed as he looked up at the screen. It said the next train would arrive in five minutes.
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