The old guy rode his bike to the school and parked it in the lee of a building in the same spot every day. He set up his laptop on an outside table and bench and spread out his books and classroom material around him. Classes weren’t in session this week: he was there for wireless access.
He was not handsome but he was striking, piercing blue eyes softened by a wry smile. When he walked by he smelled of tobacco, leather, and soap. He waved at me each morning and I waved back. As I left the building last night, he was at the shaded table, books holding down his papers against the hot desert wind. He waved, I waved, and our shoulders showed the weight of the day.
This morning he looked up right as I came around the corner of another building and looked at him and his smile was like another sun coming over the horizon. I was in one of the worst moods I’d had in months and months (on a pisser scale of 1 to 10, I was at 13) but that smile knocked darkness out of me, a kindly sucker-punch to the gut.
He held my eyes as I walked closer.
“Did you study here all night?” I offered.
That bright smile went incandescent, then softened into reasonable lumens. “Don’t you know us old cowboys sleep right on the ground?”
I looked at him blankly. My brain vacillated between is-this-for-real and is-he-homeless and oh-my-god-he-slept-out-side-under-a-table and oh-my-god-I-am-assuming-way-too-much. My tongue wouldn’t work.
In the space of my silence he continued, his face beaming a soft smile, “I used my books as a pillow.” He patted the small pile and gave me a friendly side-eye. “I had to fight some critters off, wrestled a coyote, maybe a snake or four, had to swat away some scorpions, but overall,” he drawled, “I reckon I got more sleep than you.”
I stopped walking. I felt my face split into a smile. He started shaking, his torso bobbing with silent chuckles.
“That bad, eh?” I deadpanned.
He hooted and slapped his knee. “I’m an uneducated, stupid cowboy. But we should play poker sometime.” He reminded me of an old crow cawing on a fence.
“Sir, you are so much more than that,” I said.
“Yes,” he nodded, then waved me on and looked at his laptop screen. “Go on and have a day before we introduce ourselves.”
I snorted and waved at him. He waved back, absently, but I could feel my smile as I walked into the building.