Pass-him-by

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Times were tough. Business was not going well. Wife at home not very supportive. Child had decided to join Wife's ranks. Everything was drooping, drooping. Saddest thing? He had a moral conscience.

Man stood in his shop. He had a brown hat on. It had a dimple in its top. His coat had been buttoned with an air of firmness. It practically yelled (firmly, of course): 'I will not be taken advantage of by spineless stockers!' His coat had taken a liking to that last word, as had he. Seemed more than coincidental that it was a homonym to 'stalker'. Trousers had been ironed, perfectly creased. Shoes had been shined till his firmly-buttoned buttons reflected off them. Face was one of perfect resolve, though rather haggard. Furrowed brow a bit too unnatural-looking. Showed that he had been under extreme strain recently. Grey head from every viewpoint, though perhaps the hat hid any younger hairs. Mouth had worry lines etched all around it. Eyes were a dull brown, weary of life and the unexpectedness it brought along. In fact, a passerby would've thought upon glancing at him, 'Poor broken man. Yet so many other poor broken men like him in these difficult times' and not given a second thought about him.

Man's head was bent down, a few days later from when that passerby had walked by. He was anxiously buttoning and unbuttoning his third button from the bottom. Every now and then, he glanced up, looking around for someone or something. His eyes were unusually alert. We might have thought him suspicious-looking, if he had not been restrained morally to do anything that caused suspicion. After an hour or so of doing this same action (with the exception of serving one customer, after which he busily resumed), he stopped suddenly. Instead, he started rocking back and forth, humming something that sounded like a hymn. After a half-hour of this cheerfulness (which seemed rather forced, although he was rigid in his morals), he went back to buttoning and unbuttoning his third button from the bottom. When he had exhausted his thumbs with this repeated action, he began to tap the ground restlessly with his well-polished shoe, in which his well-polished third button was mirrored. At first, he was doing it without rhythm, but gradually, his foot adapted to a comfortable beat: thud thud thud—thud—thud thud thud—
thud—thud thud thud. When he had repeated this tune fifty-four times, he stopped.

He had just started his addictive habit of buttoning and unbuttoning his third button from the bottom again when the bell rang and in came a policeman. His shirt shone with bright, shiny medals and the like, quite impressive next to the storekeeper's firm buttons and well-creased trousers. The policeman started talking to the storekeeper, leaning over the counter in an intimidating manner. The storekeeper just nodded during this time, sometimes replying 'yes' or 'no'. The policeman asked for the storekeeper's hands, if he didn't mind. The storekeeper didn't, and gave them willingly. The policeman locked them in impressive, shiny handcuffs, and led the hands' owner away into a police car parked outside.

A passerby stopped to see the storekeeper of his least favourite store being driven away in a black-and-white police car, and thought, 'Poor man. I do wonder what he did' and then, not wondering about it for another minute, thud thudded away, humming a hymn.





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