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Playing outside the line

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Another day ends at the post office, same route every six days a week. Once again, I’ll be heading straight home from work, ready to sit in my brown leather recliner, and finish the crossword puzzle from this morning’s newspaper. It has always been this way for me, and I can’t see it being an alternate today. An old man such as myself has had his days already pass by him. I’m not looking to find a different way home or choose another brand of cereal for my morning breakfast. Now, I’m ready to put my working feet to rest. As usual, I am the last to leave, so I have to close the office for the day. While taking out my car keys, I see a boy sitting on the edge of the sidewalk. I don’t see an adult supervising him. He appears to be too young to be left alone. I’m sure the boy would say something by now if he were lost. But it seems disrespectful of me to just make assumptions like that. I walk up to the boy and ask, “Are you lost? Because if you are, I can give you a ride to the police station.” The boy picks himself up from the ground and shakes his head. Maybe he was told not to talk to strangers, which explains why he isn’t speaking to me. “You don’t have to worry about me,” I say kindly. “I’m a mailman who works at this post office here. Your parents may know me from the area I deliver mail to. You don’t have to be afraid. I can help you if you want.” The boy once again shakes his head, but now gazes at me with a hint of admiration. Maybe he isn’t lost. His parents might be in the grocery store across the street and allowed him to wait outside. “Play marbles with me,” the boy says. I guess he isn’t shy talking to me after all. His voice had exposed a little eagerness on his part. I suppose I could play a game or two with him. Maybe someone will pick him up while we do so. “Sure, why not,” I say. “But it’s been a while since I’ve played this game. I might be too old to play as good as you.” The boy chuckles and says, “Anyone can do it. If I can, then you could too.”

The boy takes out a white chalk and gives it to me. Assuming he needs my help, I draw a solid white circle on the sidewalk. The boy takes out a bag of marbles from his pocket and spreads them within the circle. We each get a small amount of marbles of our own to use. I take the first shot. First try, I miss. Next was his turn, and he shoots three marbles outside the line. My turn comes back around, I miss again. These eyes are just too weak to see, even with my glasses on. It’s the boy’s turn again, and he manages to shoot the rest of the marbles across the solid white line. “You really suck at this,” the boy says. “Do you even know what you’re aiming for?” When he said that, I agreed to find his conclusions about me rude, but also true.
“Give me a break, kid,” I say. “I’m an old man.”
“But anyone can do it.”
“You may think so, but I certainly can’t. I’ve had bad eyes for years now. And you’re lucky to see
me bending down on the sidewalk in this old body of mine. It’s too late for me.”
“If that’s how you want it.”
“It’s not that simple. Once you’re old enough to get a job and wear a uniform like I have to, you’ll understand that you can’t express who you really are anymore.”
“Why?”
“Well, you won’t be happy if people disapprove of you.”
“Why not?”
“Because they won’t let you. That’s why.”
“Are you even trying to win this game?”
“What’s with all the questions? I told you, I’m just too old to play this game.”
“If you really want to make it outside the circle, you could.”
The boy picks up his bundle of marbles and places one in my hand. “Keep it,” he says. “Maybe once you try, you’ll actually pass through it.” It takes a minute for me to understand what he means by that. Eventually, his mother walks outside the grocery store, takes her child by the hand, and they both go inside their minivan and drive away. I don’t know if I’ll ever see that kid again. All I have left is the marble he gave me. Today was another day at the post office. After finishing my daily routine, expecting to go straight home and sit in my brown recliner and finish the crossword from today’s newspaper like I’ve done for the past twenty seven years. But today, I clutch the marble tightly within my hand, looking in a different direction. Looking away from my car, I can see the sun still peaking over the tall hills ahead, the same direction that boy and his mother were heading to. Instead of rushing to sit in my car and surrendering to my free time at home, I stand by the sidewalk for a few, take grasp of the picture in front of me, and ask myself, “What am I aiming for?”





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