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I sat in the desolate corner of the park and ride. It was late November. The leaves had fallen, and a brisk feel in the air had replaced the crispness of fall. I was huddled in my 1994 Nissan, with 3 jackets on and a pair of sweats. I was always prepared since the heat in my car took a good 30 minutes to start working, and I was not about to sit through 29 minutes of cold air blowing at me. My mom sent me there to pick up her friend who was taking the bus in to town. Why someone would want to come to our town, I wasn’t sure. But there I was, waiting in the cold for a woman I hardly knew. If you’ve never experienced a Midwest winter, then you wouldn’t know that every minute in the cold feels like an hour.
While waiting, I noticed a man walking through the parked cars. My first instinct was to lock the doors and slide down in my seat, so that he wouldn’t notice me. His look screamed, “homeless man looking for a car to break into.” He had a baggy jacket that was tattered and frayed on the edges. His beard was long, and grubby, his hair not looking much better. I watched him approach a young woman, and got my phone out, nervous that he was going to steal her purse, or shove her to the ground. But what I saw surprised me. The woman’s frightened look turned into a look of sincere worry, like she was truly sad about what this rugged old guy was talking about. They conversed for a few moments, and then she turned, and stepped in to her car. The interaction surprised me, but I was grateful for something to watch while waiting for the bus that was now 15 minutes late.
My gaze followed the man as he approached another person, a businessman getting off a bus. At first, the man briskly walked past him, ignoring him. But after a few more steps he turned around, and came back. Something this man had said was pulling this guy in too. After they were done conversing, he noticed me watching from my car. “S***,” I murmured. “Just what I need.” I didn’t have any interest in this man, maybe he was interesting to others, but I didn’t care about what he had to say to me. He reached my car and smiled, signaling for me to roll down my window. “No thanks,” I mouthed through the glass.
“I’m not trying to sell you anything ma’am,” he replied.
“Well, is there something I can help you with then?” suddenly came out of my mouth. Shoot, I didn’t want to converse with this guy, and I definitely didn’t want to help him out.
“Actually, yes, there is some-“
I cut him off. “Oh well, I’m actually waiting for someone, and she’s probably going to be here any second, I’m sorry.”
“This won’t take long though. You see, I’ve walked/hitchhiked from downtown Milwaukee to here. Wausau is almost 200 miles away. I’m searching for my wife. She left 3 days ago, and I don’t know where she is. She has family here in Wausau so I’m hoping she’s here. Have you seen her?” He pulled out a wrinkled photo of a beautiful woman. She had long auburn hair, dark green eyes, and a gorgeous smile. “This is my wife. Please tell me you’ve seen her?”
Looking up, I saw my mom’s friend gathering her things from the bus, and getting ready to get off. Quietly I answered, “I haven’t, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I’m not giving up yet,” he said with a sound of dying hope to his voice. “She has to be here. Thank you for your help. Let me know if you see her anywhere, okay?” He handed me a receipt from Safeway with his number on the back.
“I’ll keep an eye out for her, but I have to get going. Good luck Mr.-“
“Al, Al Jicinsky.” He answered.
“I hope you find her Mr. Jicinsky, I’ll be sure to give you a call if I see her.” And with that, I drove up to the bus, and picked up my mom’s friend. She asked me what I had been talking to that strange looking man for, but I ignored her, and asked how her trip had been. She began to ramble about the bus, and how excited she was to be back in Wisconsin. I was glad I had gotten her to change the subject, and ultimately start talking to herself, because I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about my interaction with Al. How would I react if all of a sudden, my mom was gone, or an important person in my life just disappeared? He’d done the one thing I hadn’t wanted him to do. He made me think about what it would be like to lose someone who meant everything to you.