I work in one of the least populated stores in the airport: the Ermenegildo Zegna men’s clothing store. If you’re not familiar with the brand, don’t shoot yourself. It’s not widely known unless you have money to burn. It’s an Italian luxury fashion men’s clothing brand. Why it’s in the airport I have no idea. We get zero business.
Turns out, no one goes to the airport thinking, “I’ll get a snack for the plane, a magazine, and a three hundred dollar cashmere sweater.”
I applied to work for Ermenegildo Zegna in the city and they put me at their airport store as a starter.
On any given day I can be found in an alpaca blazer, grey cashmere shirt, satin cotton trousers, and suede loafers staring blankly through the glass store windows at the sea of activity.
Families, airline employees, couples, teenagers, nomads, lost children; I see them all every day. In the end the faces blend in and become one amorphous blob of human. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m doing here. My dream isn’t to work in fashion or retail, or in the airport. I guess that’s how you find yourself in the Ermenegildo Zegna airport store.
But I do like airports; I like the feeling of being somewhere that’s in limbo. I like the feeling that the rest of the world is at my fingertips. So while I don’t know what direction I want my life to take, I enjoy the feeling of having all locales at my disposal. I bring my passport with me every day on the off chance I’ll decide to hop on a plane and begin anew. After my shift is over of course. I have ethics.
To break up the daily monotony, I go to the American Airlines arrivals section for my lunch breaks. I like to see people reuniting. It’s one of the few places in the world with a 100% success rate for happy interactions. Virtually everyone picking someone up is happy to see the person arriving and vice versa. You’d never know how much hate there is in the world if you’d only seen the Arrivals section of an airport.
Truth be told, though I did initially find comfort in the reuniting I witnessed from de-boarding passengers and their greeters, the main reason that kept me coming back was a man that caught my eye one day.
When I first saw him I mentally criticized him for his poor fashion sense. He was wearing a bad suit: the blazer didn’t match the pants, the shoes looked like something a nurse might wear, the tie and shirt were old, he just looked bad.
I can usually fit in at least two arrivals within my lunch break and I noticed that he rose to greet the arrivals when they emerged. He smiled at everyone, though the passengers rarely looked at him, and when there were no more, he would cast a glance down the jetway, as if longing for more faces. When none surfaced he would take his seat.
I saw him do this for a week straight and I became obsessed with him. In addition to my lunch breaks I started taking longer bathroom breaks to see if he was still there. He always was.
After a month of this I couldn’t take it anymore and I had to find out what was going on with him. Maybe I could help. I could at least get him fifteen percent off a new shirt, which would only cost him two hundred and fifty dollars in the end.
After another attempt of his to greet whomever during a de-boarding, he sat down and stared out the large window, beyond which was the airport concourse.
I sat down next to him; he didn’t seem to notice.
I stared directly at his profile and he still didn’t flinch.
Finally I said, “Hi, I’m Jack. I work at the Ermenegildo Zegna store, I take my lunch breaks here and I couldn’t help notice that you seem to be waiting for someone that doesn’t seem to be arriving. Could I help in some way?”
“I think that would be difficult,” he said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“I’m waiting for Jesus Christ.”
“The Jesus Christ? The one born on the 25th?” I asked for clarification.
“That’s the one,” he said. “I had a dream or really more of a vision that he’s gonna come through this gate, but I don’t know what day unfortunately.”
“That is unfortunate,” I concurred. “Y’know, I’m no psychologist, but I took some psychology in college, and they say that everyone that shows up in your dream is actually representative of you in some way, some aspect of you that gets manifested as someone else that has an association in your unconscious. Like, if I’m particularly anxious about something in my life my mother might show up in my dream because I associate anxiety with her. So it might be that the dream of Jesus you had is actually representing something that’s going on in your life or some feeling or emotion that’s present inside of you.”
“That would mean I think I’m the Son of God,” he said, ready to dismiss my theory.
“Well it could mean that, or maybe you feel particularly religious these days or something.”
“That’s the thing,” he said, “I’m actually an atheist. I don’t believe in religion, but this vision was so strong and it was this gate, it was just too convincing. It’s one of those things where you have to have gone through it to be convinced. I don’t expect you to believe me. I wouldn’t. But that’s who I’m waiting for.”
“So in the dream Jesus was walking through this airport gate?” I asked.
“Yup, and it was clear in the dream that I was supposed to meet him here because he needs a ride.”
“Did he look like the traditional paintings of Jesus?”
“Well, not exactly. In the dream he was a glowing sphere of light.”
“I guess you wouldn’t need any help spotting that,” I said.
“No, not really.”
And then I didn’t have anything else to say for the moment so we sat together in silence for a bit, which was uncomfortable, but I guess I wasn’t ready to go. I should have considered him crazy, given what he just told me, but I could tell he wasn’t crazy. Nor was he a zealot. He spoke matter of factly and you can always tell if someone’s crazy by their eyes. His eyes were normal. This guy had a dream and he was following it through.
Then I looked at his ugly nurse shoes again.
“You don’t have to go to work?” I asked.
“I’m independently wealthy,” he said, which took me by surprise; nothing about him seemed wealthy.
“Sorry to be forward, but I think you could use some new clothes.”
“Ha! That’s what my ex-wife used to say to me constantly. I just don’t care about clothes though. As long as I’m comfortable I’m happy.”
“Would you wear this suit to a wedding?” I asked him.
“This?” he said, holding his lapel towards me. “No. I would get a new suit. I’m not so out of the loop that I don’t know this isn’t a great suit. But I’m not looking for a woman, and these shoes are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn and I don’t know, the rest of it was just to get something on. I haven’t bought new clothes in a long time.”
“The next arrival isn’t coming for at least an hour at this gate. I think you should come to my store and buy a new suit.”
“Is it a lot of money?”
“Yeah. It is. But if you’d buy a new suit for a wedding, I’d think you’d buy a new suit to meet Jesus.”
“OK, why not.”
Back at the store I fitted him in an Indigo Trofeo Denim Blazer ($1995), Indigo Cotton trousers ($695), a Burgundy and Navy Cotton Shirt ($395), and Hand-Buffed Bartolo Loafers ($625).
He handed me a credit card without blinking an eye when I told him the total. This was too weird, until the credit card was declined. That made sense. He gave me another one; that too was declined. He gave me a Discover card. I didn’t even want to try it, but I did, and it was declined.
“Oh well,” he said, “I guess Jesus will have to accept me as I am,” and with that he went back to the changing room to put his old uniform on. I was not only disappointed that he wouldn’t get some new clothes, I also missed out on an amazing commission and the chance to maybe get a job at a flagship store in the city.
When he came out he thanked me for trying to spruce him up and said he was going back to the gate to wait for Jesus.
I obviously couldn’t stop thinking of him the rest of the day. He’s waiting for a sphere of light that he saw in a dream, he was once married, he’s independently wealthy but clearly not, he dresses terribly, but more importantly how is he allowed to show up every day at the same gate and not raise any suspicion by airport security?
I asked one of the Airline gate agents about him — and why I didn’t sooner I have no idea, I guess I was intrigued — and she said he used to be a gate agent himself until he had a nervous breakdown and had to quit. He was married and he was truly divorced.
I wondered if she knew about his Jesus vision and she said that came after the breakdown. The airport let him come down because they felt sorry for him. He doesn’t have any family and he’s clearly not playing with a full deck.
But he seemed so sane to me, I thought to myself. How could he not be playing with a full deck? I looked at his eyes. They were normal eyes. I’ve seen the eyes of a nervous breakdown; they’re not normal.
“You know he’s not coming, right?” I asked him the next day during my lunch break, feeling perfectly comfortable with eating my sandwich next to him.
“Why wouldn’t he be coming?” he asked me.
“A sphere of light on an airplane? Why would he need to travel by plane if he’s a sphere of light?”
“I don’t know, I’ll ask him when he comes through the gate.”
“How long are you going to wait for him?”
“Forever,” he said.
“Jesus,” I said. “Some people say the story of the bible is a metaphor and the sun of god is actually the sun that rises in the east and sets in the west. It’s a metaphorical story.”
“Maybe. Anything’s possible,” he said. “What about you? How long are you going to spend looking at me every day?”
“For as long as I work here I don’t think I’ll be able to not look at you,” I said. “This is too intriguing. And I don’t want to miss the sphere of light. What if it’s today?”
“What if indeed,” he said. And then a new round of passengers de-boarded and came through the gate. He rose, as per usual, to greet them.
Spoiler alert: there was no sphere of light.
I returned to the Ermenegildo Zegna store after my lunch break and somehow made it to closing time without having a nervous breakdown myself. Only one guy came in the entire day. He asked how much a tie was and raised his eyebrows when I told him the price ($385). He thanked me and left. That was my last interaction for the day.
It dawned on as I locked the store that I was the man at the gate waiting for Jesus. Is it so much more believable that someone is going to walk into the Ermenegildo Zegna store at the airport and buy a $4000 suit than it is to believe Jesus in the form of a sphere of light is going to walk through an airport gate?
At least the man at the gate had had a nervous breakdown as an excuse. I didn’t have an excuse besides laziness.
I figured I wouldn’t wait for Jesus to come to me. I’d go to him. I hopped on a flight to Italy that night and decided I’d apply to the Ermenegildo Zegna in Florence once I got there.
If it didn’t work out I could always come back and join the man at the gate to wait for Jesus together.
Matt Hyams is a comedian and comedy writer, based in Philly. He performs stand-up in Philly & NYC regularly. He created and writes egobabymag.com, a satirical site about all things spiritual. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
For Reedsy’s curated feed of writing prompts and the chance to enter our prompts-inspired Short Story Contest, head to reedsy.com/writing.