The train shuddered, speeding in a blur through the trash that lined the electric rails. Colorful bits of plastic wrappers whipped in the air over the grey carcasses of dry dead rats. Below 21st street and X, I saw him, the person I had been searching for. I was filled with an overwhelming warm rush of relief and already, heavy weights that had long drug me down began to fall from my shoulders. He was hidden beneath a bushy grey beard and a funny little cap, but there he was nonetheless. His kind sad eyes gave him away. As I moved towards him, I felt the familiar draw of someone’s sadness, a pulling sensation, and I stopped to see what it was. A woman sat with her small sickly looking child.
Perfect, I thought as I eyed her. I tapped her on the shoulder and in a cheerful voice I said, “You don’t know how good your timing is. I’ll... be right back.”
She had long blonde hair and light blue eyes that seemed to shine their own pale light. But the pain that lived in them was palpable. I could almost taste the despair in the space around her. I winked at her son, sitting in her arms. He was small and thin, maybe a year old, and he fussed. Dark prominent circles around his eyes stood out on his little pastel face. When he saw me, he smiled and giggled. I didn’t need to look back to appreciate her rightfully confused look. Her face and the sadness it held burned in the back of my head as I made my way past her, through the crowd of bored looking people. Their sluggish bodies, their legs sticking out in the aisle way, and their briefcases were barricades on the way to my target. The passengers that stood looked like heavy punching bags that hung from the high metal handle near the roof of the train car. I bumped past them all as the train rounded a corner and everything went dark for a moment in the old run-down train car. The lights flickered back on and then, there he was.
“Hi Jim… May I sit?” I asked, smiling and taking a quick sniff of the stale recycled air. Surprised, he peered up from beneath his wool cap, and for a moment he seemed to want to crawl in a hole and hide, to be left alone more than anything. But, after he saw my face, he must have decided I looked pleasant enough, because he motioned for me to sit. I smoothed out my long black jacket, interlaced my fingers in front of my chest and took the seat next to him. “I go by Blake. Good to finally meet you.”
“Good to meet you Blake. What can I do for you?” He asked in a practiced tone. His distrustful eyes studied me.
“It’s a funny thing - Knowing you’re supposed to find someone, without knowing who they are. And then, when you finally meet them, it’s magical my friend - Takes time too. Fifty five years I’ve spent, looking for you - Been looking since you were born.”
“Really?” he asked. He thought for a moment, wondering how he could get away from me. He looked me up and down and I could feel him wanting to slide farther away in his seat, but he was stuck between me and the window. I gave him nothing but a knowing smile to comfort him.
“I know I don’t look my age,” I chuckled, “but don’t worry - I’m not some nutter. The realization you’ve already seen who you’re looking for, that persons face a thousand times, without ever seeing… them - That is the funny part. I’ve seen your characters, but none of the real Jim - Until recently. Here’s to social media.” I said, raising an imaginary glass. “And Netflix… The real Jim, that’s who I need to speak to and here… you… are. First, I want to say that I do appreciate your purpose as you currently understand it, to relieve concern. Is that how you phrase it?”
He thought for a moment, trying to figure out if I was part of a joke, or if I was indeed a nutter - a crazy person intent on stealing on of his finger nail clippings. I could see he still wasn’t sure, but he nodded his head in answer. “It is,” he said. He smirked and sucked on his check while he continued to assess me though his narrow doubtful gaze. Ever the comedian, he was still trying to find the joke.
“It’s a good sentiment, but it’s time for more - Much more. If you were born a thousand years ago, what do you think your profession would have been?” I asked.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?” His wide smile was a façade and his finger pointed at me with a bit of a tremble in it.
“In a way I suppose you do. Don’t worry. I’m no weirdo Jim. Just humor me will you? Please? Have anything better to do?” I asked, motioning to our fast moving metal cage. “What do you think you would have been a thousand years ago?”
“Probably whatever job my father had. I don’t know. I probably… would have been someone, who, built things.”
“A carpenter? Clever.” I said with a wink. “Very clever Jim. I would venture a guess that you would have been a healer, a spirit walker, an old soul, a… holy man. However you want to call it, that’s what you would have been. Just think about it. Your mission in life is to make people feel better, forget their concern, even if just for a few hours. You pretend to be other people, even let ones long dead walk around inside your skin for months at a time. You do this at great cost to your own happiness, even your sanity. But, you don’t care and sometimes, you even chose to not get well to play your part better. Isn’t that right? You stay sick for the people, so you can put on a better show to help people forget their concern – To heal their sick and tired minds. A few hundred years ago, they would have burned you at the stake for witchcraft - Jumping around doing voices like you do... Maybe, in another thousand years, these people,” I said sweeping my arm around the cabin, “would accept you for what you are - Not now though. Maybe, in a thousand years, you’ll find out eh?” I said with a wink. “For now, you do what you can with the tools you have. You’ve done a respectable job for a mortal.”
“I’m sorry… Blake is it? Who are you and what do you want?”
“In truth Jim, I came to talk to you for two selfish reasons.”
“You don’t look like you’re off your rocker. You got a script to pitch or something? You almost had me fella. That was quite a wind up ya had there and now…” and he began to stand.
“Jim!” I threw my head back and laughed. “Let me tell ya something. What I’m selling can’t be bought with coin, nor can it be returned. Now that I’ve found you, all sales are final. Once every thousand years on this earth, there is exactly one, truly special and heavily burdened person. In case you missed it, I said one - Just one. It is with both great joy and deep sorrow that I must tell you, in this world of grey, you are the much needed color. You have a greater purpose J.C. – And I have no doubt, you’ll do a much better job than I have for the last century.”
“Ok. It’s been fun. I’ll be going now,” Jim said and he jumped off the bench as if it was wired with electricity. He looked over his shoulder to see if I was following and took three brisk steps until I appeared in front of him and we bumped chests. “How did you do that?” He asked as his face drained of all color.
I clutched his shoulders to keep him from falling. I leaned in and whispered in his ear, “You watched your dad waste away at a desk, his life slowly draining away. You didn’t do what your father did. You are a man that knows his purpose – And now, I’m going to give you your tools. You’ve, always wanted more. And you got what you thought that was! And MORE and yet, still, you feel like nothing inside. There’s a reason for that. Every time “Jim” talks, it’s about sadness and emptiness and still, there’s hope in your words. You talk like a teacher, a healer. Jim, turn around. You see that blonde woman sitting over there?” I pointed in her direction. Her baby had started to fuss again. “You’re going to walk up to her and then you are going to heal her sick baby. Do you understand?”
“Are you kidding me? You are a nutter.”
“Can you do something for me Jim? Don’t get better – Embrace your sadness. When you go to her and save her child, and he WILL die without your help, I warn you - You will feel emptier than you ever have, but at the same time, you will be fulfilled for the first time in your life. I know you can take it. You will take the sickness and the pain Jim. The push and the pull, Ying and Yang - You make people laugh and... that’s why you’re so sad. It’s the balance. You’ve brought temporary relief to masses, but now, now you will really save someone. This’s just the beginning. And I’m sorry to say, it’s going to hurt Jim.”
“How could I possibly save someone?”
“Alrighty then,” I winked. “Take my hand Jim.” I extended my open hand to him. His grip was tight and he gave it to me without a second thought. There was a moment like a flash of lightening, but only for us. The rest of the clueless riders only saw two men shaking hands, but for Jim and I, the world lit on fire. He blinked and turned his head to cover his eyes and when he opened them, he was holding my black jacket and I was gone.
“Thanks Jim. That was the first selfish thing I needed from you - Needed a rest. I earned it,” I whispered in his ear. “Do well my friend. You know what to do next. After that, the world is yours.”
Jim looked around, but my body was gone. A bit of me lived on… with him. For some reason it was instinctive for Jim to throw on the black button-up jacket. He looked at his hands like they were new to him and in many ways, they were. He turned and strolled down the aisle and an invisible pull drew him towards a blonde woman who sat with her small, sick child. It was like a string was tied to her and her sadness was reeling him in without her ever even knowing.
“Hello,” Jim wavered taking the seat next to her. His eyes nervously bounced from hers to the floor. With sweaty palms, he searched for the right words. After a moment he looked her in the eyes and just blurted, “my names Jim and I’d like to help.” Her baby cooed and his tiny little hand wrapped around Jim’s outstretched finger. Noticing, she looked down and started to pull her baby away, but something about Jim’s eyes told her he could be trusted. At his touch, Jim watched as the boys pale face went pink and the dark rings around his eyes faded to nothing.
“What did you do?” the woman gasped.
“I don’t know - But he’s going to be ok now.” Jim said. His heart swelled with a deep secret sadness, but, still, for the first time in his life, he felt whole.
“How?” she cried through the tears that streamed down her face.
Jim looked up and wiped a tear that ran down his own face. “I’m not sure,” he whispered. “But I’m glad I could help.”