Sitting in her usual metal chair outside the coffee shop, Letha feels sharp ridges indent into her legs. She watches birds splashing in puddles on the street. The tiny harmless creatures extend puffy brown feathers as they shake away water droplets. Instead of walking, they hop. With short, quick bursts one of the birds hops toward Letha. Taking a long drag from her cigarette, she ashes at her feet. The bird pecks his dark beak into the gray ash, shakes it out of his beak and returns to continue to ingest and spit, ingest and spit.
Eyeing the sparrow with distaste, she moves a foot towards it. “Stop that!” she mutters behind locked teeth. But the bird continues to peck. She exhales; smoke gets trapped in her inky black hair. Like clockwork, after the fifth drag she finishes her cigarette and stomps it into the ground. She glances up at students passing by; they move quickly with ear-buds perched inside their ears. Some stare at their phones as they march, transfixed by the motions on screen.
Letha sees these monotonous figures every day. Some speak droning sufferings and complaints, but she ignores them. She places a hand in front of her translucent eyes as if to protect them from sun although the sky is clouded. Hearing footsteps nearing her, she moves a ringed finger from her eye, and sees a stranger’s face. Immediately intrigued, she removes her hand and her eyebrow twitches. The stranger stops directly in front of her.
He doesn’t move, only allows his long gray hair to whip in front of him. With misty cataracts he stares into the distance. The stranger begins to stoop down, reaching a parched, leathery hand toward the bird. It quickly hops away, forgetting the ash and returning to a puddle in the street.
The stranger stands, again staring into the distance. “These are uncomfortable chairs,” he says with a raspy, nearly inaudible voice. She eyes him curiously, unaware of an appropriate response.
“Yes, this one especially,” she mumbles, trying to conceal her deep voice. He says nothing. Grasping his surroundings, he hobbles into the distance.
Letha hunches her back and cradles her arms around her body, shivering from the chill of his presence. The metal chair continues to protrude into her legs.
After waiting five minutes before the beginning of her 11 o’clock class, she stands, arches her back and extends her arms, stretching her limbs like a bird drying its feathers. She walks a few steps and then looks over her shoulder, her sharp nose pointed in the direction the stranger walked. Never once has Letha considered skipping class. The consequences will be incalculable—her grades will suffer and she will fall beneath the rest of the students. Logic screams at her to attend; yet the stranger whispers to her from a distance.
Letha walks away from the school building, heading down a street perpendicular to its high brick walls and three story windows. The street is riddled with houses she has seen repeatedly—close enough in proximity to one another to see from one window into another’s home. For this reason blinds are always drawn, but the houses contain no mystery. Their architecture is simple, apartment style. Students lease them, eat sleep and become drunk inside them. Letha strides past the homes, intent on finding the strange man.