Michael sat down on the bench, checking his watch as his leg nervously tapped the floor. The bus was running late today. That wasn’t good for him. He needed to make a good impression at this interview. This job could be a great stepping stone in his career—he had to get it. And if the bus didn’t hurry up, he wouldn’t!
“C’mon, c’mon!” he murmured. “Let’s hurry this on up!”
A car passed by nearly every second, but no bus yet. He was shaking, just a little. Just a little he shook. But he was anxious.
He looked to his side to see an older gentleman sitting on the bench next to him, a tophat covering his eyes as he snored gently. Michael sighed, turning his attention back to the road where he waited for the bus to come. If only he could be like this guy. Sleeping soundly without a care in the world. The man looked fairly old, he’s probably been retired for years now and is just enjoying a low-stress life. It would be years before Michael would reach that level. Heck, he only had a bachelor’s for three months now. His life was only beginning.
His heart leapt as he saw the bus round the corner, and he jumped to his feet to be ready to get right on. He turned to look at the old man, wondering if he should wake him now that the bus was here. That was but only the right thing to do. Maybe this gentleman was trying to get somewhere too, it wouldn’t be right to let him sleep through it.
Michael stepped away from the bus, nudging the old man.
“Hey, the bus just arrived,” he said. The man’s head tilted up, his eyes wide as he swallowed a snore. He looked around for a minute, then his eyes fixated on Michael.
“Two hundred thousand two hundred and seventy-four,” he said.
“Two hundred thousand two hundred and seventy-three. Two hundred thousand two hundred and seventy-two. Two hundred thousand two hundred seventy-one. Two hundred thousand…”
Michael tried speaking again, jostling the old man a little. “C’mon, the bus is here. That is what you were waiting for, isn’t it?”
“Two hundred thousand two hundred sixty-eight. Two hundred thousand two hundred sixty-seven.” Two hundred thousand…”
Michael rolled his eyes, stepping away and onto the bus. “Whatever,” he muttered. “Sometimes druggies just need to be left alone, I guess.” He grabbed hold of the ceiling rail and braced himself as the bus lurched forward. Off to get what hopefully would be good news. He almost couldn’t feel his feet he was so nervous. He gathered that it wouldn’t be until after the interview he’d be able to stand comfortably again.
By the time the interview was finished, though, he wasn’t sure if he’d feel his feet like he’d hoped.
“Well, Mister Sánchez, I must say I’ve been quite impressed with you thus far.” The man stood up from behind the desk and extended his arm, which Michael took. “Let me review you and Mister White’s resumes again and I’ll call you by the end of the week with news.
“Thank you, Mister Wagner,” Michael said. He was beaming, but the anxiety hadn’t subsided like he had thought it would. But, he had done his best, and that was all that mattered. It was all up to fate now. He left Wagner’s office and stepped onto the elevator to take him back down to the streets. He’d be heading straight home and putting a hamburger on the stove for dinner. Some nice steak seasoning made even the cheapest of frozen hamburgers taste gourmet. Maybe if Wagner called him back and told him he did get the job he’d go out and celebrate with a real steak. Get some real food, not just whatever he could fit in his small freezer back in his apartment.
He stepped off the bus with haste. The more the thought about food the more his stomach growled at him. He could almost taste that hamburger already—
The man. The man was there. The one from this morning, who was drunk or high or whatever he was. He was still there.
“Should I…” Michael trailed off, shaking the thought away. No. It was better to just move along, get on with things..
“One hundred fifty-five thousand and three. One hundred fifty-five thousand and two. One hundred fifty-five thousand and one. One hundred fifty four thousand…”
Had he been counting all day? Just sitting there, spouting off numbers?
Michael scoffed. “Well then yeah, I’ll let him on his own. Don’t need to help some drug addict.”
He walked past the man on the bench just as he got to two hundred fifty-four thousand nine hundred and eighty-eight.
Michael awoke the next morning to the sound of his phone ringing. He groaned, having felt like he just barely fell asleep. Even the melatonin he took didn’t seem to help, as he only fell asleep around three in the morning. He had just been too darn nervous to let his body relax.
He groped for the phone, getting a hold of it after a few moments. Without looking at the caller ID he swiped to answer and began groggily speaking into the mic.
“Is this Michael Sánchez?”
He shot up in bed as he recognized the voice of Mister Wagner.
“Yes, this is him.”
“Mister Sánchez, I am very pleased to inform you we will be expecting you here in the office Thursday morning. Can you make that commitment?”
Michael’s heart leapt, a massive smile crossing his face.
“Today is Tuesday?”
“Yeah, yeah I think I can be there Thursday. Absolutely!”
“Very good. I look forward to working with you.”
“Yes, thank you sir! Thank you very much!”
“Mhm. Goodbye now.”
Wagner hung up, and Michael leaned back in his bed shaking his fists in celebration.
“Yes! I did it! I have it! Oh, ¡máma! ¡Espero que pueda estar aquí!”
He looked at his phone. It was just past noon. Well, it surely wasn’t too early for the Texas Roadhouse to be serving steaks right now (yes, he was aware it wasn’t truly a “gourmet” place to get a steak, but it watered his mouth nonetheless).
“I’ve gotta shower!”
He leapt off the bed, hobbling on over to his shower and turning on the water. After a nice, long and hot rinse he got out to get dressed. He smiled to himself all the while, slipping on his sneakers and putting his phone back in his pocket as he stepped out of his apartment. He marched down the stairs towards the street, stepping out into the warm yet brisk air around him.
“Oh, today is a good day!”
His smile faded a bit when he looked to the bus bench. That man… he was still there. Just sitting there, staring blankly up at the sky. Eyebrow raised, Michael walked over to him and slowly began hearing numbers yet again.
“Seventy-five thousand six hundred and fifty-two. Seventy-five thousand six hundred fifty-one. Seventy-five thousand six hundred and fifty.”
Michael scoffed at the man again, being somewhat bothered by this. He wasn’t sure why. It shouldn’t matter to him if some old homeless guy wanted to spend his time saying numbers all day. But… the fact he went from what, two hundred thousand or whatever yesterday morning to this now? Something about that just rubbed him the wrong way. The idiot was wasting his life counting! He oughtn’t to spend so much time just saying numbers. It was ludicrous. But, then again, why should Michael care? Why should he care at all? It shouldn’t matter to him. It didn’t matter to him. No, not one bit. He’d just walk on past, right up to the curb to wait for the bus.
“Hey, Mister! What the heck are you counting for?” Michael shouted.
The old man just continued to stare at the sky, spouting off numbers. “Seventy-five thousand six hundred seven. Seventy-five thousand six hundred six.”
“Hey, I’m talking to you!” He grabbed the man’s shoulder, shaking him a little. “¿Entiendes español? ¿Necesitas ayuda señor?”
“Nine-five thousand six hundred one. Seventy-five thousand six hundred.”
He shook him again. “Come on! Why are you counting?”
Michael turned around to see a large, burly man standing behind him.
“What’s going on?”
Michael sighed, embarrassed. “Nothing.”
“What are you screaming at that guy for?”
“It must be something.”
Michael sighed. “He just won’t stop counting.”
“So? Is that your problem?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll leave him alone.”
The man moved along, and Michael continued to stare at the gentleman next to him. He just sat there, staring at the sky. He hadn’t even seemed to notice Michael yelling in his face at all. Had this guy even slept? Had he eaten anything? As far as Michael could tell, he hadn’t moved from that spot or stopped counting since yesterday morning! The idiot was going to die of thirst or hunger or something, and it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault but the idiot himself. Psh. He was just some bum. Why should Michael care?
“Adiós, weirdo,” he said, departing to celebrate.
Michael was on top of the world by the time he got home that afternoon. He got the job that morning, or, technically afternoon, and he met the most beautiful woman at the bar tonight. He’d gotten her number, which he had scrunched tightly in his hand.
“I’m king of the world!” he shouted, grinning furiously. “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me otherwise!”
“Otherwise,” said a passer-by.
“Oh, screw off!” Michael jeered. Within a moment he returned to his drunken smiling, kissing the little piece of paper he held in his hands. It was a pretty number. A real, nice, gorgeous number he had right there. A gorgeous number from a gorgeous girl. At least, he hoped she was gorgeous. She might be hideous and the alcohol was messing with him. Whatever the case, he was just glad to have a date that weekend and it was all thanks to this number right here!
Speaking of numbers, he was passing by the counting man again.
“Forty thousand nine hundred sixty-two. Forty thousand nine hundred sixty-one. Forty thousand nine hundred sixty.”
Michael chuckled. “Maybe I’ll join ya, counting man! What number you on? Forty… forty thousand nine hundred fifty… fifty five. Ha!”
The man just stared off into the dark sky, not giving Michael even a moment of acknowledgement.
“Whatever man. I’ll see you tomorrow, eh?”
He walked past him, grinning wildly as he marched into his apartment and began up the stairs to his room. He didn’t give himself time to even remove his shoes before he fell into bed dead asleep.
Michael awoke the next morning with a miserable headache. He tossed and turned in bed, trying desperately to find some position that would make it go away, but inevitably failing. He groaned as he got out of bed, gritting his teeth as he walked into the bathroom to pull out the painkillers.
“Tylenol,” he muttered, removing the medicine cartridge. He opened the lid and pulled out a couple of pills, and drank from the sink. A swig of water in his mouth, he popped the pills into his mouth and swallowed. “Gotta remember not to drink so much.”
He yawned, checking the notifications on his phone before stuffing his face into his pillow.
He turned to look out his window, grunting and moaning.
“Maybe some fresh air would feel nice,” he wondered.
He took a deep sigh, he got up to throw on some semi-decent clothes and shoes. He headed out, phone in one pocket and keys in the other. It was unseasonably cold when he stepped outside. He was about to turn back around and grab his jacket when he saw the man again. He was still sitting there, staring blankly into the sky as he continued to mutter numbers aloud.
“This guy,” he spat. “What a lunatic.”
He began walking towards the bench, wondering what he was doing. Why? Why did he care so much? If the man hadn’t stopped to eat or drink or sleep, why should he care? It wasn’t his health that was in jeopardy, it was that idiot’s! Maybe it just bothered him that the guy’s health was in jeopardy. He hadn’t moved from that spot for days now. Days.
“Hey, counting man!” he hollered. “You want some food? I’ve got some food back in my apartment upstairs. If you come with me I’ll give you some.”
“One hundred forty-five. One hundred forty-four.”
“Hey, ¡hombre! I’m talking to you! You hungry, man? You’ve been sitting there counting for days! C’mon, I’ve got some food and water if you want.”
“One hundred twenty-nine. One hundred twenty-eight.”
“Eh, it’s pointless. You won’t listen to me anyways, huh? Too busy counting! Counting what? You’re counting for no reason!”
The man suddenly shifted in his seat, still counting. He bent over and pulled something out of the bag by his feet. A slip of paper. He wrote something on it, and then handed it to Michael.
“Heartbeats?” Michael said, staring blankly at the paper. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”
“Seventy. Sixty-nine. Sixty-eight. Sixty-seven. Sixty-six.”
“Hey, man! C’mon, you don’t need to count. C’mon, I’ve been watching you for days now. I’m worried about you. I’m a caring guy, you know? I don’t want you to thirst to death out here.”
“Forty-three. Forty-two. Forty-one. Forty.”
“Are you ever gonna respond to me?”
The man suddenly stood, rising only five feet above the ground. He turned around, his eyes wide as he continued to spout numbers.
“Thirty-four. Thirty-three. Thirty-two. Thirty-one. Thirty.”
“Alright, man, you’re kinda freaking me out.”
“Twenty-six. Twenty-five. Twenty-four. Twenty-three.”
“C’mon, what are you doing? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Eighteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. Fifteen.”
“Hey, aren’t you going to say something other than that? It’s just normal human decency to respond when someone talks to you!”
“Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.”
Michael could feel himself sweating, his throat constricting as his heart rate continued to rise. He was shaking, not sure why. But all of a sudden, he… he didn’t feel so well….
“Four. Three. Two. One. Zero.”
There was a sudden pain in Michael’s chest, and he collapsed to the ground as he let out a scream. Everyone within a twenty foot radius suddenly crowded around him, he felt someone grab hold of his wrist.
“I don’t feel a pulse! Someone call nine-one-one! This man is having a heart attack!”
Michael was struggling to breathe, staring into the eyes of the counting man.
“Call nine-one-one! Hurry!”
Michael saw someone pulling out their phone, dialing as fast as they could. He just continued to stare at the counting man, who was now staring at the man who had climbed onto his chest and was giving him CPR. The eyes of the counting man squinted, as if he was closely examining the CPR-giver. He looked him up and down, then turned around and began walking away.
“Two million one hundred forty thousand three hundred twenty-three. Two million one hundred forty thousand three hundred twenty-two.”
Michael stared at the man on top of his chest, a sudden pit in his stomach forming for him as the world around him became blurry and darkened… realizing that two million wasn’t that much.
Credit: The Quiet One
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