By Avery Gaines

I met him in a coffee shop. I went in that day to pick up a cup of my usual, sit alone, do some writing, and then be on my way.  As I was going to sit down though I noticed this elderly man reading Fahrenheit 451, my favorite book. I decided to say hi.

I was a little intimidated, he had stoic features and seemed as if he wanted to be left at peace like the rest of the customers usually do. “It was a pleasure to burn.” I said to him as he peered over his reading glasses at me.

“What?” the man spoke, most likely not being able to hear me over the clashing of coffee glasses and sprouting of espresso machines.

“The book you’re reading, sir.  It happens to be my favorite book and I had to say my piece before I left as I saw you reading it.”

“Ah yes the book I am reading.  Ray Bradbury is an author that holds a big piece of my heart.” He said.

We began to ramble back and forth about a few other authors and minor details of the book.  He then he offered for me to sit down since it was not the best manners to have me stand over him and speak.

“What is your name my dear?” he said.

“Oh, I can’t believe I hadn’t introduced myself yet I apologize.  My name is Avery sir.  And yours?”

“Isn’t that funny?” he questioned.

“What is?” I asked confused by his statement.

“That we had forgotten the most important part of being a human.  Our names.  We were so hung up on other levels of intelligence that we forgot to do the most simple and meaningful aspect of conversation.  Our names.  My name is James my dear and it is lovely to meet you.” He said.

Intrigued by him already I found myself asking him numerous questions to which he had intelligent answers.

“Are you from here, James?”

“No, I am from the East Coast.  Here on business and whenever I come to this town for work, I cannot leave without a cup of the finest coffee from here,” he said.

“Well this is the best coffee house on this side of the River.” I laughed. “I am sorry you travel a lot, it must get lonely sometimes on the road.”

“Oh no I am used to it,” he said.  “But, just like you I came into the café for some alone time to be with my thoughts.  That is the funny thing about us humans though.  Being alone is not an easy thing nor something we ever want deep down.  Take us for example.  We both came here to catch up on work and sip coffee by ourselves, but we are now found lost in conversation that was never meant to be had.”

“Well I guess you’re right. I am not much for being alone though.  I quite like the accompaniment of people.  If you don’t mind me asking James, what is it exactly that you do?” I asked in earnest.

“Oh, no, ask away my dear – it does not bother me.  But if you must know I am a writer and I, like Ray Bradbury, am an author of many books.”

“Really?” I asked eagerly. “I am also a writer.  More on the struggling side of writing because I have not found my voice yet, but I sure try.”

“Well that is the first step. Trying. No one really has a voice in their writing. We all borrow from other writers and imitate their voice then morph it into our own.  Were all one entity of artists just trying to survive in the world,” he said.

We then went on and on about other aspects in life.  When he published his first book at the age of 26 and how he met his wife right out of college.  He hated coconut like me and aspired to be a fireman when he was a kid.  I found out that at times everything makes him happy and at times everything makes him sad.

“I lost my wife when I was 56,” He said lowly.

“After you lose someone like that the birds chirping at each other in the morning can make you feel as if you are the loneliest man on the plant.  And other days when the sun shines through the blinds and lands on my morning paper I am content and happy because I know that my life has mapped its way out for the better.  It all one day at a time for me so I have no definite answer on happiness, sadness or any other extreme emotion.”

I found myself hanging onto every word he spoke as if it was the last words I would hear.  He spoke of times of turmoil in his younger days and how much love he felt when his first and only child was born. He gave me advice on life, love and writing. I soaked in every sentence that he rambled and wrote down key points to remember. Soon enough I found myself checking the clock and realizing that it had been two hours since I had sat down. Running late, it was time for me to go.

“James I am so sorry to leave this abruptly, but I have to be at work in 15 minutes and I have not even gotten ready yet,” I said.

“Avery, don’t have a worry in the world.  You gave an Old man like myself time to have someone listen to him.  Which is sometimes all we need.  A meaningful set of ears.”

“I also want to thank you for your advice and sharing your stories with me.  I appreciate it more than you know.  Is there any way I could get a copy of your first book by chance?” I asked.

“No,” he said bluntly.

Dumfounded by his response I asked why not.

“Because it does not exist.”

“What?” I paused, baffled, and confused by his answer. “But all you just told me?  You’re an author.”

“No.  I am sorry to tell you all this after we have gotten to know each other so well.  But, I had to lie to you.” He said as he was standing up to leave.

“Why would you lie?” I said, my tone stiff and annoyed.

“Well, when you came over and asked me about the book, you were so excited to discuss this book with me I had to play along.  I had only picked up the book from the shelf five minutes before you came in.  Your eyes lit up though when you said the title and I could not take that joy away from you.” He said.

“Why lie about writing and all the others things though?” I asked.

“Once more.  You’re so passionate about writing and what I was talking about that I couldn’t stop.  And lying is fun.  We can be someone were not for a moment in time.  If you must know though.  I am just an accountant from a town a few hours away and am here visiting my sister.  I have been divorced three times and have no kids,” he said. “Now, which of my two stories did you like more?”

Silenced by all this he spoke to me once more.

“The one thing I have learned is that if you have a meaningful life, people want to listen to you more.  No one cares about an old mans life who has been working since he was 18.  They want to feel something and connect.  You connected with my author story. You can’t connect with my real life.”

“We all want to hear the fairy tale story, so I gave it to you. Now you can learn from it or write about it.  Whatever you chose, feel free.”

And with that he left, leaving the copy of Fahrenheit 451 on the table with me.

Image: Jeff Sheldon

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