Messenger of Chance
It was a Monday morning like any other. I suspect many of the billions of people in the world were doing just as I was doing, getting ready and rushing to work, but I didn't think of this at the time.
I thought myself to be ordinary, and I can't say if I'm an ordinary man that had something extraordinary happen to him, or if I'm special and it was just my time to experience the supernatural. I suspect, after the fact, that neither is true. Life is complex, putting most answers on a spectrum, which I suppose places me between ordinary and special, smack dab in the middle of average. Still, last Monday morning was anything but average.
I was rushing out to the shop, running late. I'd promised a customer I'd have their new brakes installed before ten. It was almost nine-fifteen and I was jogging outdoors with a toothbrush sticking out of my mouth. I was scrubbing my rear molars and spat a wad of bubbly spit off into the gravel. Normally, I don't pay so much attention to my dental hygiene, but I'd just gotten my wisdom teeth out. The guys at the shop had jabbed at me about how their lives had gone to hell after their wisdom teeth were pulled. Billy, the paranoid one of the bunch, he poked the most, but he was also the guy we had to remind to stand clear because he'd lowered a car on his foot more than once. I was sensible. Billy called me uptight, but he was always a shot of whisky from the drunk-tank.
The stitches in the back of my mouth weren't sore anymore. I winced at my toothbrush's mangled bristles, I didn't know how long I'd had that thing, and tossed it in a city trashcan. I rounded the can and awkwardly sidestepped a bum on the street.
"Get out of the sidewalk," I growled at him, but he just smiled up at me through a grin of more gums than teeth. Some sort of wrap was on his head and he was wearing clean work clothes. I saw that he was wearing no shoes so I passed him off as a homeless crazy and kept walking.
I got a few paces before I saw him in my way again. He had a piece of cardboard at his feet marked in a grid with pebbles on it--he was playing with rocks. I looked back over my shoulder where I'd seen him and the sidewalk was empty, then I looked back at the man and he replied with that same gummy smile.
Bob Miller, the guy who wanted his brakes fixed by ten, was on my mind. I didn't have time for one of the neighborhood crazies, God knows New York has enough of them, so I crossed the street. I glanced over my shoulder a few times, keeping the old timer in my sights. I turned the block and there he was again staring up at me.
"How do you do that?" I asked him, but he just returned that dopey smile. My attention turned to the stones on his board. There were more now, and they were pushed out on the grid-like pieces on a chessboard.
The man looked down at the board. He opened his mouth and when he spoke it was smooth, deep almost like a jazz singer. No accent either. In New York about everybody has an accent, but this guy spoke like an English professor.
"My board and my stones show me what might be," he said as if the concept was as conspicuous as the concrete sidewalk he was sitting on.
"You read the future in the stones?" I asked. There was no hiding my doubt. If he couldn't hear it in my voice, then my face probably gave it away. Supernatural crap was for priests and yoga instructors.
"No one knows the future," he told me, thick brows furrowed as if I'd just claimed the sky was purple. "They tell me what's likely, few things in this world are certain."
I didn't believe a word that came out of his mouth, but I needed to get to work and I feared that if I passed him, he would only get in my way again.
"What do you want?" I asked plainly, irritation in my voice.
"I want you to stand there, for another minute."
The man didn't offer an explanation. He turned back to his board and his rocks, raised an eyebrow, and moved one.
I shifted my weight to step past him again. The man didn't look up but pointed past me.
I spun around. A blow caught me in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. A blue blur crashed against my chest. I caught it and fell backward. It was all so fast, I thought I'd been hit by a car.
When I opened my eyes, I heard this shriek. A gurgling cry with words mixed in between. "My...ba...baby!"
I looked down and saw a stroller sideways half on the road. At once, I realized it was what had hit me in the gut.
"It slipped out of my hands," she cried stepping toward me.
Then I felt something move on my chest. I jerked back and looked down. Two bright blue eyes looked back. The child couldn't have been older than two, swaddled in a blue blanket.
"You saved him!" the woman cried, scooping the child up into her arms.
I turned toward the man who had blocked my path, but he was gone, along with his board and stones.
Call it spiritual, call it magic--All I know is it happened, and I went to work that day with a sore gut and a full heart.