“I’ve been away, for quite some time,” he said, his fingers interlaced and placed in his lap. A small espresso rested in a white cup on the table in front of him. He sat sideways with one knee crossed over the other. Wearing dark corduroy pants and brown shoes, he was straight backed, the posture of confidence. His hair was more gray than I remembered, but no less thick, and his eyes remained as sharp and blue as they were when last the two of us sat across from one another. I could not remember if was ten years ago or perhaps longer.
“Long enough that most of these streets seem very different. The buildings are faded, like the color has been sucked out by so many winters. I miss some of the trees I used to know. Many of them blew over in the wind storm a few years back, or so I am told. Of course, the fires had their impact. In many ways, it fees like I am visiting a shadow, something that resembles what I knew, but it lacks something crucial. I can’t define it. My memory is faulty, I fear.”
I shifted in my seat.
“You must have seen some amazing things while you were away. I can’t imagine the places you’ve been, or what you have observed.”
He looked at me, a softness in his face that I did not expect. A small smile came to his lips and he let out a deep sigh. It wasn’t a remorseful sound, and it wasn’t quite one of recollection. Perhaps it was a sigh of understanding or acknowledgment. Regardless, he was silent for some time, as if the words he was about to share with me were playing in his mind like a movie, and he wanted to wait until the end before interrupting them.
“If I learned anything, saw anything, felt anything, it was that despite what some would have you believe, every place has its beauty, every idea has value, and love is the most important and crucial thing. In the end, the world is an amazing place, but every place on it is equally so.”
I wanted to press him. Certainly anyplace was more interesting, more wonderful than here, but something about his countenance convinced me this was an argument I would not win, and one he would not have. Then, like he knew I needed more, he continued.
“Though, I will say I am partial to the ocean, any ocean.”
Sunlight from the fading day filtered through the glass doors just over my shoulder, illuminating his face as he drank down the last of his beverage.
“Were you always alone?”
“One is never alone in a world of so many.”
This wasn’t what I meant, and I knew he knew that.
“Sure, but certainly at some point, you shared your journey with someone more important to you than local strangers who happened to be present as you wandered through their cities and towns.”
For the first time in our conversation, a far away look washed over his face, slowly, like a rising tide, or the moon out of a mountain. He brought his fingers to his lips, perhaps remembering a brief kiss, or other hands than his own caressing his wrinkled cheeks. I imagined the entirety of his soul exposed, every hidden place flushed out in the light by someone he had never expected to find, but would never recover from meeting.
He shook his head slightly, removing himself from the memory and returning his essence to this table, this room, this chair across from me in a nearly empty coffee shop at the end of another autumn day. Looking around once more, he focused on the photographs that hung on the wall, the work of local artists, some of whom I was intimately familiar with, one I loved more than anyone else in my world. He turned his gaze to me, the sharp jaw line casting a tiny shadow onto his neck.
That was enough.