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The clock struck nine, ten, eleven, and twelve. I watched the broad man from my mother's newspaper stand in the train station where she sold the daily press. The man shifted upon his seat as he read one and flipped the page with a crisp fold. His gray suit wrinkled where his left elbow was bent upon the wooden bench's arm, and he had a vibrant violet tie tucked inside his jacket. Sitting there for hours, I had been observing from behind the stand's cheap counter, waiting for his time to move on like all other folks in the station. It hasn't happened yet.
My mother came up to me from where she was sitting in the stand's corner, a ham sandwich in one hand. She ruffled my short copper bob as she gently drew me towards her chair.
"It's impolite to stare, Luca," she scolded. I brushed away her warning with a dismissive wave as I kept watching the mysterious man through the open counter. He was drinking a coffee that hadn't been in his hand a minute ago and was smiling faintly. I frowned. My mother frowned at me.
Her voice sharpened and I turned towards her, a small bend in my eyebrows, feigning ignorance.
"Leave that man alone, Luca. Let him enjoy his day, please," she told me. I rolled my eyes but gave my mother a nod as she went back to eating her sandwich, and I went back to regard again. Secretly.
I picked up a paper from a packed stack and pretended to read it as I watched through slightly closed eyes; Irritating people passed and blocked my view casually. Scrunching up my nose, I leaned forward. The coffee the man was holding was now against the back of the bench and pressed against his gray suit, seemingly empty. Suddenly, another person darted in front of my vision again, and the coffee was gone, off the bench and nowhere near the man. I held in a gasp as my eyes snapped back to the newspaper in front of me, and I tried to look nonchalant.
I distractedly studied the unintelligible lines of text that my freckled hands were resting on, and tried to focus on them like I was reading. I still couldn't read at ten because my schooling was limited. School wasn't a luxury my mother could afford.
Glancing up quickly, I scanned the man in the gray suit again and watched him flip another page in his newspaper. I hadn't seen him buy the paper from our stand, but he had been resting there when our stand had opened. My suspicion grew.
My mother soon came up next to me to serve a tall and lanky middle aged man buying The New York Times, and I ducked under the counter, out of sight. My mother would get in trouble if the officials found she was harboring an orphan, but my mother needs the extra help when setting up shop and taking care of the sales, so I stay and help. I have a roof over my head here, as opposed to the dirty halls of the train station.
As the man- whose name was Gregor- passed with his newspaper folded in his hand, I came out from underneath the dust ridden aluminum counter, and stood back up where my crumpled packet lay. Slowly, I brought my gray eyes up to look at the mystery once more, and his gaze met mine. The lines in his face were deep crevices in a dark complexion, and he had crow feet that branched from the corner of his eyes as he looked back at me for the first time. Purple, it seemed his eyes were, and they flashed like his tie, as his stare whispered: I know you've been watching me. My fair knuckles became white as I gripped the aluminum and ducked back under into the faded light beneath.
My mother gave me a puzzled look from her chair as she shook bread crumbs from her weathered hands.
"What are you doing down there? No one is at the counter," I heard my mother say as she approached me.
"The man on the bench," I chirped. My mother's kind, blue eyes darkened within her frame of limp golden hair, and she sighed.
"I told you not to bother him anymore, Luca! You have to listen-"
Suddenly, I heard a faint kick against the metal panel I was leaning up against, which made me go silent, as someone was at the counter. This person had caught my mother unaware as she turned to greet him with a nervous twitch to her eyebrow, but nothing a stranger would catch.
"Good afternoon, sir! How are you today?' She asked the stranger cheerily, trying to cover up her mistake.
"I am well, thank you. New York Times?" The stranger replied. Without even seeing his face, I knew it was the man in the gray suit, for my mother's eyes flicked down to mine for a second. It was enough.
Mother reached for The New York Times in the back as I crouched at attention, feeling the muscles in my feet begin to cramp up. The sent of violets and salt was overwhelming as Gray Suit stood over me, and I tried to breath quietly through my mouth.
"Here you go. Where you heading to?" My mother chirped. Rustling could be heard from the opposite side.
"Oh, I'm not sure yet. I have no idea where to go, so I think I'll just get on a random train and see where it takes me," answered Gray Suit.
"What an adventure! I hope you stay safe."
Gray Suit paused for a moment before saying, " Before I leave, could you give this to your little girl under the counter? She seems like she's worth her weight in trouble."
I felt my mother stiffen beside me and let out a startled laugh.
"Of- of course I can. I'm sure she will appreciate it. Thank you," she smiled, which transformed into a grimace, not denying my presence.
"Have a nice day!" I could tell the man left as the odor of violets was sucked from the air, leaving no trace of the flower anywhere. The pounding of my heart quickened as I scrambled to get up form under the counter to see what he had left me, hitting my head in the process. The hit echoed in my skull as I stood up and stared at my mother, who's face was bright white.
"What is it?" I asked. She opened up her palm, and sitting there in the center was a violet. I stared at it.
"It's a pretty shade of white. You can't find flowers like this around here," Mother commented.
"It's purple, mom," I replied as I looked at her. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she scoffed.
"Love, that is the whitest flower I have ever seen. Don’t play dumb." She handed it to me as she went back to her chair and grasped a magazine from underneath, her hands shaking as she fumbled with paper. She mumbled something about the police under her breath.
"It's a violet, mom. What are you talking about?" I said back to her.
"That's one white violet then, Luca," she sighed without taking her eyes of the magazine.
I bend my head down to look at the bright purple flower, petting the petals gently. It seemed to perk up as I touched it, and I wrinkled my nose at the strong smell from the center.
"Hey mother..." I say distractedly, " what color were the man's eyes?"
"Uh... brown, I think," she muttered. My mouth twisted in befuddlement. My mother's hand took the next page of the magazine and fiddled with the corner.
"And his tie?"
"It was gray, love. Just like his suit. Why are you asking me this, when you were the one staring at him for two hours?"
I gave her a small smile and another question as I pieced the events back in my head.
"One last question: did you smell violets when he was standing at the front?"
My mother frowned at me again. "No, he smelled like coffee, just like every other Yorker. Why?"
"Just wondering," I said as I swiveled around. As my eyes darted around the bench and the area he was sitting at, I spot him walking aboard a train two platforms down. His eyes met mine as he turned his head and gave me a smile, and I watched as he walked into the train, never to be seen at the newspaper stand again.
The violet never lost its scent years later as I set off to find the gray suited man, one step aboard a train to somewhere.