By Mark Poltera
Hey, young man. Yeah, you. Come over here. That's it, come on over. Yeah, take a look at what I've got in here for you. Don't be so shy. Why are you hesitating? I promise it will only take a minute, then you can go.
Come on into the store here. Wait, put your bicycle up against the wall there. Watch your step. I wouldn't want you to trip or anything. Watch the door there. Here, I'll hold it open for you. There you go. Doesn't that bell I have on the door sound nice?
I was about ready to lock up when I saw you riding by on your bike. Of course, I've seen you before, riding by on your way somewhere or coming back. I have no way of knowing what you're doing really, and you never quite come by at the same time everyday, but I have noticed you. You didn't know that, did you? I thought, What a nice young man there on that bike. Yes I did. I thought that more than once, and you didn't know you had an admirer. Although I never had cause to stop you before today.
Actually, I've wanted to stop you for a few days, but I haven't seen you. If you've been by, I must have been too busy to notice. It gets that way sometimes in here, you know. An old man like me gets distracted by his customers, especially when there is more than one person in here. Can't keep track of too many things I guess.
I didn't used to be that way, but I suppose that's part of getting older. I can still lift these boxes for the most part, which is why I still keep working, but I'm not quite up on top of things like I used to be. There are moments when I find I don't know how much time has passed. Can you believe that? Two or three hours just missing from my memory as if they never occurred. I don't know how else to explain it. Maybe I'm bored and need some kind of excitement. But I haven't forgotten about you for some reason. Oh, listen to me. I hope you don't mind me going on like this. I tend to ramble a lot. I even talk when no one else is around.
You caught my attention several months ago. It may be because you're about the age I was when I used to ride my bike all over the place. You go by and I can see the wind blowing your hair, and I'll bet your legs are strong from all that peddling. What are you, in fifth grade or so? Oh, sixth grade. Well, you are even more mature than I thought, what a pleasant surprise. And so polite too, you didn't even get upset at an old man for making a mistake, and it is so easy for me to do these days.
Hold on a second, I forgot to lock the door and turn the sign. Stay right here by the counter a minute while I take care of that.
I'm sorry sir, we're closed, you'll have to come back tomorrow. Thank you, yes, I'll be here first thing in the morning.
I like that glass door, even though people can still see me in the front end here after I lock up. It is kind of like my picture of the world when I look out through it. The background is always the same, but the activity in front always changes. There now, all taken care of. I've seen you moving through that picture making my little view of the world a little brighter. Oh, I almost forgot the lights. The neat thing is when people come in that door. They step out of the picture and into the store and the doorbell lets me know they are not part of the view any more but right here in front of me. Outside never quite seems real anymore. Inside is real. I've wanted you to step through that picture and ring the bell for a while now. You never came in on your own though, so I found a reason myself, and now you're here.
Come over here around the counter here where I am. Yeah, it's back here. That's right. You'll have to wait a minute while I get it from the storeroom. It may take me a little bit; I can't quite remember where I set it down, but I know it's back there. Since the lights are off people shouldn't think I'm open. Don't worry, that streetlight out front always shines in here. I'll bet you could even read and not strain your eyes a bit. Except, the only reading materials on this side of the counter are the cigarettes.
I suppose while I'm back here I'll have to talk kind of loud so you can here me. I can trust you to leave the cigarettes alone, can't I? You don't smoke do you? Of course not. Little boys shouldn't smoke. It would make your breath stink. You wouldn't want that.
I know some boys smoke. I've seen them walk by here cluttering up my view with their cigarettes, usually ugly, dirty boys, not like you. Some even come in here, step right through that picture and try to buy from me, but I won't sell to them. I don't know where they get them from, the cigarettes, but it's not from me. Sometimes they even talk nasty to me for not selling to them. Where in the world did I set it down? Those kids make me so angry, I could just … well, it doesn't matter. I'm happy knowing there are still nice young men like you. I do sell a lot of cigarettes to adults though, but they shouldn't smoke either. I don't smoke, but I let customers smoke in here anyway. Ah, here it is.
You're still out there aren't you? You wouldn't go hiding from an old man trying to do something nice for you would you? Why don't you close your eyes? That way we could make it a huge surprise. I'm glad you're letting me do this for you. This should work out well for the both of us.
Was that the doorbell? Did I not get it locked? Where did you go? Out. Right out the picture. I can't blame you. It's hard to keep promises. I was going to keep it though; I definitely was. But you wouldn't know anything about that. I'll keep this for you.
"I live in the Kansas City area where I am teaching an alternative high school self-paced program using a combination of computer software and teacher directed one-on-one instruction." E-mail: mpoltera[at]kc.rr.com.