Yesterday at Pike Place we were browsing in a bookstore buried in a dark corner, an underground mall below the fish markets and across from a store with stale candy. And the owner bounced up and down as he turned, swirling and swishing — the chair just reacted to him that way when he moved.
He was marking books or folding something or who knows what, and piling whatever it was up in front of him, building a paper fortress around himself and peering out to heckle anyone passing by, a twinkle in his eye. He was one of those guys that makes dad-jokes, often and well, to anybody who will or won’t listen. He doesn’t care when you don’t laugh, but he’s pleased out of control when you do. He was loudly speaking in accents (at times seeming a caricature of himself, as he looked to be of maybe middle eastern descent, I’d guess. Second generation. The accent was goofy and exaggerated), singing made-up songs, and asking strings of unanswered questions to nobody in particular.
I smiled at one of his quips as people churned by him, heads down, making sure to look at him so he knew. It felt effortless enough to acknowledge him that I noticed how easy, how extremely breathtakingly easy it was. I laughed at his joke and he flicked his eyes up, never stopping his marking and folding, but unabashedly eager to start a conversation. He assumed I was a student, and asked me what I was studying. I told him I just graduated in English Teaching. He responded, almost solemnly, “Good for you”, with a nod that told me that he meant it.
He had a kind and unconditional smile, and I reeled myself through the threads of the conversation, over to his counter. We just…talked. About travel, about teaching, about books. It only lasted a few minutes, and it may not seem like a big deal, but to me it felt like the first clear breath after a cold. I had avoided people’s eyes for so long, I had forgotten that they could be so warm. I told him I was traveling and enjoying life before I settle down, and he told me to do that while I can, maybe even do a service trip abroad, though it’s a bit harder if you’re attached, he added, nodding in Dakota’s direction. I didn’t feel like explaining all of that, so I just laughed and unconsciously averted my eyes to something nearby. I urged them back up, quickly, knowing that if I let myself get uncomfortable the beautiful ease of the conversation would float away.
He said he just met a woman, and he wants to save up credit card miles and take her on a honeymoon if they get married. Somewhere amazing, he said. And as I left the shop he told me to have good luck with teaching, and I told him that I hope he goes everywhere.