ClubI looked up over the edge of my reading glasses at the gentleman sitting one seat over from me at the coffee bar of Busboys and Poets. He had asked me why I was reading my book and I had absentmindedly answered him, trying to ignore his attempts at conversation. His reaction to my response had my full attention. He smiled at me and repeated his words.

–I was expecting a story. I thought to myself, here must be an exceptional tale. I thought, this girl has seen evil.

His skin was charcoal with dark eyes to match. He had spoken softly and with care, his words sounded like they weren’t used to English. He gave me a closed lip smile. Patient. Waiting. He smiled gently. He was gentle. His movement, his gaze, his attitude. He seemed at peace with himself and who he was.

–Hm. Are you sure that isn’t projection?

He chuckled, rubbing a hand on his bald head, thinking on how to reply.

–I guess we could all say we’ve seen things. I just still can’t get over it. Why that book?

Sighing, I glanced down at the page number before shutting the book and placing it face down on the counter.

–Well, from what I can tell, this book is about communication and perception. When we speak to people we assume they are on the same level as us. Same degree of verbal capacity or comprehension. That we are all playing by the same rules. Yet, that’s not really the case or at least not always the case. Some people talk and mock communication as they have no sincere desire to express themselves. They talk and talk but unlike most, it’s to fill an inner void, validating a state of mind or way of being; instead of reaching out across the void. They don’t want you to receive the information, process it, and reply. They would rather be self isolating. I do not believe this to be a bad thing. It’s just something that is and this book explores the perception of that specific barrier between people.

He sat. His dark eyes staring at his half empty glass of orange juice. The condensation had soaked it creating a little moat between the edge of the glass and the napkin in rested on. He was lost in thought to the point where I wondered if I shouldn’t have said anything. People either hear what they want to hear or what they fear to be true.

–Why, Holy. Miss. Do you really think that? I was right you have seen things.

I pulled my glasses off my nose and tossed them onto my book. Picking up my cup of tea, I settled back into the bar stool.

–I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve seen things, but those are my thoughts. I’d like to think I meet people where they are.  Communication is complicated so I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure.

He chuckled.

–Miss, I think it was Fate we met today. You gave me the answer to a question I’d been praying on for a long time.

He turned his glass ninety degrees in his fingers. Lift. Turn. Place. Lift. Turn. Place. Lift. Turn. Place. He looked up at me. Eyes unwavering.

–I’m a negotiator. I guess you could say, I’ve been known to build bridges. I am good at it. Take two people, two groups, two forces, and close the distance between them. Mend hurt. Build something new. It was never anything I had to try at. I just happened into it and I was good. This was my skill. This was my gift. But then.

He broke eye contact and sighed. Looking at the cup in his hand.

–Miss, my boss has been wanting me to get a person on board and no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do or say nothing happens. Then my boss comes down on me for it. Hard. It is making me question myself. Doubt myself. And you look like a person who knows what doubt can do to a person. So I’ve been praying on it. ‘God. Do not take this from me. This was my gift and I know you can give’th and take’th away; but not this. Not this.’

He leaned his back over the edge of the chair stretching his throat towards the ceiling.  He took a deep breath and wiped at his eyes. He looked down at the glass again.

–I never once thought it was not me. I thought this was all within my control. I believe, grace of God, I can do anything with His Will. I never thought it could be someone else. That this is not about me. That this is about them and letting them be. Not my need. Not my boss’s need. It’s them. All them.

–Perhaps your boss is coming down on you so hard because they have already tried with this person. Perhaps you are the last resort and what does that mean if you are? What happens to them?

He looked up at me, his brow turned down with concern. I sighed.

–Whatever happens is not on you. It’s not your responsibility. We all make our own bed to sleep in. Some people need the fire. They need to burn for validation. To know that they exist and that they are who they are.

He snorted and shook his head at me.

–Like I said, Miss. Meeting you is Fate.

I laughed, rubbing the back of my neck unsure as to what to think on the idea.

–Miss, you have given me new ground to stand on.

I raise my eyebrows.

–Oh, really?

–Yes, Miss. New ground to build bridges with.