The clouds let loose as grape-sized raindrops punish my windshield with authority. He walks hunched, towards a tree. The guy has long sleeves, shirt half-heartedly tucked into ill-fitting pants, rope belt. Drab wet clothes cling to a cachectic stork-like frame. He holds a styrofoam coffee cup in one hand. Orange nylon twine laces call attention to naked feet hiding inside tired-looking ankle-high boots. I pull a small umbrella.
“HEY!” The rain is deafening.
I wave the umbrella, trying to get his attention. He turns towards me, shuffling and sloshing through mini rivulets flooding the parking lot.
“I’m already wet, but thanks anyway!” He turns politely towards the tree.
“Hey!” I point the umbrella out the truck window. “This is Florida…maybe you can use it the next time it rains!”
He stops, turns and heads towards me.
I have a flower arrangement on the passenger seat that my wife ordered for my retirement party. The man peeks over the window into the seat. Water drips off his balding forehead and down his nose and chin.
He is probably fifty-plus; his high mileage is obvious, he looks more like he is in his early seventies. He has smokers’ wrinkles, deep-furrowed crow’s feet and days-old chin scruff. Thick eyebrows with long, unruly gray hairs rim his eye sockets and trap the rain cascading off his brow. The rain barely conceals the grey, sad-looking eyes on bloodshot sclera. He blinks, wipes his face.
“Beautiful flowers!” He looks into the seat inside the cab of the truck.
“Yes, they are. Umbrella?”
I pass the umbrella. His fingernails are long and curly with vertical ridges tipped by soiled edges. Knuckles display early degenerative osteoarthritis. Nicotine stains on the index and middle fingers betray his habit. There is no wedding band, no watch, no bruises. No tremor. So he glances at the flowers again, like a kid eyes candy. I pluck one and hand it to him. He ditches the coffee cup and reaches for the orange zinnia.
I let up on the brake and raise the window. As the truck inches forward he calls out, arm straightened, with flower in hand as if raising a toast. His face is now in my face. I notice the collar of the maroon tee-shirt beneath a soaked shirt, and how the ragged edges with bleach marks and coffee stains betray pedigree. I notice my tie. His eyes link to mine.
“I LOVE YOU,” he says.
The rain is deafening. It is like the guy T-boned my feelings, and I wasn’t expecting that kind of emotional trespass. I thought I could hold back from crying but it is like trying to plug a hole in a dike with a broken finger. He ambushed my macho, overwhelmed me by…what can I say? Just this feeling I could wrap my arms around him and hug him like I would my brother.
I hit the accelerator.
An academic physician and scientific writer, Ricardo José González-Rothi is a relative newcomer to creative writing. He has had his fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry featured in Acentos Review, Biostories, Foliate Oak, Lunch Ticket, The Bellingham Review and others. Born and raised in Cuba, he came to the United States as a refugee in his teens and now resides in North Florida. gonzalezrothi.wordpress.com