“Look at that crowd waiting on the corner,” Bobby said, leaning against the sill of the one and only window in our cramped, messy office.
“What is it?” I asked, not looking up from my PC monitor.
“A really odd bunch of people waiting for the walk signal across the street,” Bobby explained.
“So, check it out, dude.”
“Come on, man, take a look at this.”
“For heaven’s sakes,” I grumbled, but I rolled over to the window without getting up from my chair.
“They are a motley group,” I admitted when I’d looked down on the waiting pedestrians.
With gloomy gray clouds blocking out the sun, the pedestrians looked like they were in a black and white still — a picture that maybe some great photographer like Barney Cowherd would have taken.
“Must be at least a dozen of them,” Bobby said, “and they don’t look one bit happy.”
“They all look worried,” I said, checking out a few faces.
“All of them,” Bobby said.
“I’d be worried, too,” I sort of joked, “if I was out there with them waiting for the light.”
“Yeah,” Bobby agreed, “me, too, but why? Why are they all so worried?”
“Why?” I asked dramatically.
“Let’s guess why,” Bobby suggested. “Tell me their stories. The whole bunch.”
“Get serious,” I said.
“Imagine,” Bobby prodded me.
“You do it,” I said, figuring the light would change way before we could get this little game off.
“All right,” Bobby said, shaking his head, “here goes.”
I leaned forward in the window to get a better look at the people below.
“They look anxious,” he started, “downright unhappy. Like they’re having an existential moment en masse.”
“Good grief,” I said with a little snort.
But the crowd did look anxious. Most of them were looking down at the ground or at their feet and seemed deep in thought.
“Little lady in front,” Bobby began, “possibly foreign. Filipino maybe.”
“Nice profiling,” I said, shaking my head.
“Seriously,” Bobby went on. “Check her out. Kind of frumpy, in a rumpled dress, big, unstylish pockets on it. Kind of an urban nerd lady.” I laughed out loud at that.
“Why is she anxious?” I asked.
“She’s alone, in a strange, new country, that’s enough.”
“You better hurry,” I told Bobby.
“Yeah,” he said. “The two dark-haired ladies behind the first lady. A mother and daughter. Mother doesn’t like the girl’s boyfriend. Girl just told the mother she was pregnant.”
“Next,” I goaded.
“The man and woman to the left of the mother and daughter. Husband and wife. He’s a little older than she is, she feels dominated by his experience. Wants to be free, doesn’t know how. He’s bored with her. They have nothing to talk about.”
“Right,” I laughed.
“To their left,” Bobby went on. He was really into it now. “The older guy with the big, old-fashioned fedora. Smoking a cigarette, deep long drags. In the first stages of emphysema. See how he’s staring off into space, seeing nothing. He’s a goner.”
I tried to imagine the man much older, barely able to breathe. I shook the idea out of my head.
“Look, behind the mother and daughter, a soldier.”
“Where?” I asked, craning my neck.
“There, behind. He’s also smoking and one arm looks maybe crippled. He’s back from the war. Shot up or hit with shrapnel.”
“Which war?” I said.
“Take your pick,” Bobby said, “they’re all the same.”
“Hurry,” I told Bobby, “finish fast.”
“Okay,” he said. “To the left of the soldier, two more women. Another mother/daughter team, this time with a little girl. No man again. Another hit and run relationship.”
“What about those two young guys in back of everyone?” I wondered. “Soldiers in civilian clothes?”
“No,” Bobby said, “they both work in the area. Maybe they know each other already. Look, the one is asking the other what time is it.”
“That’s odd,” I said, “they both have watches on. Why would the one guy ask the time when he’s got a watch himself?”
“Maybe his watch is broke,” Bobby suggested. “Maybe he just wanted to talk to the guy. Meet him.”
“Oh,” I said, maybe understanding.
“And last but not least,” Bobby concluded his survey, “in the middle of them all, a little boy hawking newspapers. It could be in the middle of the 1940s for all that.”
“You don’t see it much anymore,” I agreed. “Not nowadays.”
“I did pretty good, didn’t I?” Bobby asked, puffing out his chest. He seemed very proud of his analytical abilities.
“You missed one though,” I told him, “off to the side and at the back. Don’t forget him.”
“Who?” Bobby asked. “Where?”
“In back and to the right side,” I repeated.
“Okay,” Bobby said doubtfully.
“See that guy with the old style golf cap obviously hiding a chrome dome,” I extemporized, “the chunky one? See there. Look how he’s skulking around. You know he’s gotta be some kind of strangeo. Some kind of perv. Probably a pederast or other type of hidden criminal.”
“Hey,” Bobby exclaimed, “how do you get all that?”
“How?” I laughed. “Just like you, I looked him over and gave him a back story. A pretty good one I think.”
“I don’t think it’s so good,” Bobby said.
“Why not?” I said, wondering what was up.
Bobby didn’t say anything for a few seconds. I looked over at him.
“That’s my Uncle Henry,” he finally said, a pained look on his face.
“Oops,” I said, just as the waiting crowd below began to step forward when the Walk light at last came on. In seconds they had begun to dissipate into the city. “Sorry.”
“Geez, man,” Bobby said, “show a little sensitivity, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said slowly, scooting my chair away from the window and back across the room to my paper-covered desk where I began typing recklessly and completely inefficiently on whatever job I was working on.
“Good point. More sensitivity. My bad, my bad.”
J. B. Hogan is a writer living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has a Ph.D. in English (Literature) from Arizona State University (1979) and worked for many years as a technical writer. He has published just under fifty stories, including the four-story fiction chapbook Near Love Stories online at www.cervenabarvapress.com (forthcoming), and in numerous journals like the Istanbul Literary Review, Smokebox (forthcoming), The Scruffy Dog Review (forthcoming), Aphelion, Rumble, Bewildering Stories, Avatar Review, Copperfield Review, Ascent Aspirations, Megaera, The Pedestal Magazine, Dogwood Journal, The Square Table, Raving Dove, Mobius, and Viet Nam Generation.