In thirty minutes, I have to meet with a man whom I have been watching through the window. At first, I thought he was a passerby resting on the bench outside of the building. It’s a fine bench positioned under an old tree with dappled shade. With the light breeze that happens to be blowing today, there are few places in the area more delightful to take a rest than on that very bench.
Then I noticed that way that he leisurely dangled his tattoo covered arms across the back of the bench with his camouflaged bags resting at his feet. He did not appear to be leaving and matched the general description of “a man” for my afternoon appointment.
He let his head tip back as the sun broke through the shade and warmed his face. It was an intimate moment suddenly broken like a stone hitting still water with the call of a cell phone in his pocket. His body changed, becoming tight and tense, ready for combat when he looked at the number of the incoming caller.
A few words were exchanged on the phone, just enough to make the blood rush to his ears and neck, filling them with a red flush. As he spoke, his free hand gestured wildly in the air, angry and ugly, consumed and transformed by his emotion. His words were absorbed by the birds, traffic, and hum of the air conditioner unit by which I sat and continued to watch the man.
If I were to judge this book by its cover, I would have already slid this one back onto the shelf. I would have searched for a book with a cover, spine and pages intact. A little dog-eared, with a coffee stain on the edge of a few pages and an old receipt for lunch left between the last pages, no longer needed as a bookmark, signs of being well used and loved.
I never would have learned the history of his tattoos or that his son was about to turn one and that he was just on the phone with his child’s mother who was threatening to revoke all custody. If I judged a book by its cover, I would have missed the most beautiful and terrible stories of heartbreak, survival and growth. I would be nose deep in a world of fiction, unaware of the real life non-fiction that reads better than any novel on a shelf.