The First Impression
By Annie Littlewolf
I could not have predicted it would turn out this way, and I certainly wouldn’t have started my day out like I did, had I known.
My day started like every other day had, since I had gotten my job at the accounting firm in Manhattan. I liked to get in a run early in the morning, and so I would don my running shoes, sweatpants, sports bra, throw my hair into a ponytail, and toss my MP3 player around my neck, earbuds firmly in place — and head to Central Park for a nice brisk 5 mile run. I usually stuck to the same path most days, only changing when I ran into too much foot traffic or too many bikers. The morning air cleared my head for the day ahead and helped me keep my figure — I had visions of aging and starting to look like my mom — jiggly thighs and butt. So I ran. And listened to music.
And so there I was, nearing the end of my run on this Monday morning, feeling a bit out of breath — and I did my usual — slowed down to a walk for the last half mile or so to get my heart rate down — I checked my FitBit regularly to be sure. And then I found my favorite park bench to stretch out against, and then to finally just sit down to ponder on life.
This Monday, a young man was already sitting on the bench. That was okay — enough room for two, even more, actually. He had a newspaper folded up next to him, and a briefcase on the ground to his left. His hat was sitting on top of the folded newspaper. He was looking around, as if waiting for someone or something.
I came up to the bench, and did my calf and ankle stretches, and started my shoulder stretches when he looked up at me. His eyes seemed to be imploring me to sit down. So I did. He had a helpless look in his eyes, almost puppy-dog eyes, and who can resist those? You know?
He spoke, “You have a moment?” he asked me.
“Uh, sure, can I help you?” I replied.
“Well, it’s not that I need help so much — or maybe I do, I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore,” he said, looking quickly down, his eyes sliding the other direction, as if he was embarrassed now for speaking.
“It’s okay. I’ve got to no place to go right away — we can just sit here, if you’d like.” I said.
So we sat there. I had already removed my earbuds, so I sat back, and stretched my legs out in front of me, crossing my ankles. He didn’t move except to shake his head, and turn it back and forth — again, like he was looking for someone. He seemed to be having some kind of internal dialogue with himself. I felt bad for him — obviously something was on his mind, and he needed someone to talk to, but I wasn’t sure I was the best bet he had. I was no therapist or psychologist or anything. And no advice columnist — I punched a keyboard and used Excel at my job, for heaven’s sake. But for now, I was who he had chosen, or maybe just the one person who had finally sat down on the same bench. I didn’t know.
Several minutes passed. Finally he seemed to have to come to some kind of decision. He turned to me.
“Could I leave this briefcase with you for a little while?” he asked.
“Um, well, I’m not going to be here very long — I mean, if you need to go somewhere quick, I can sit here — but I’ve got to get to work.” I said, now confused.
“Well, someone was supposed to meet me here, and they haven’t come — and I need to go. And I can’t take the briefcase with me. And I can’t just leave it here. I need to leave it for that person. Could you PLEASE watch it? I’m sure my friend will be here soon. Please?”
Something didn’t seem right about this anymore. Yet those eyes were pleading with me. I needed more information.
“What’s in the briefcase that’s so important? And why do you think your friend will show up since he is already late?”
He looked around, quickly checking as if being sure nobody was listening.
“I can’t say.”
“This is sounding too mysterious — and I don’t want to get caught up in something that might be dangerous. Maybe you need to find somebody else to help you. I’m sorry.” And I started to get up.
“No! Please don’t go! I need someone to help me! I know my friend will be here, I know it!”
He reached for my arm. I pulled back, now alarmed. I didn’t bring my cell phone to call 911, and nobody was walking by to help.
“Let go of me! I don’t want to get involved! You are scaring me!”
“Okay, okay…..please. I’m sorry, so sorry. I’ll tell you the truth,” he said.
I stood there, wary, but he seemed earnest and pleading. I waited.
“It’s about my ex-wife. That’s it. She’s in the hospital right now — she’s going to have a baby today. And I feel really bad. I messed up. I got behind, real behind, on my alimony payments to her. And I wanted to make up for it. That’s all. Her new husband, Steve, well….I called him and told him if he could meet me here, I’d have the back money I owe her — plus I got them a small gift too. To show them I was sorry and also happy for them. That’s it. That’s the truth.”
His eyes welled up with tears. Oh what a sad story! I sat down beside him. He bent over to the briefcase, opening it to show me what was inside.
I saw several bundles of bills banded together against a wrapped package — so neat and tidy. The package was done up in baby blue wrapping paper with little ducklings on it, holding umbrellas. So adorable!
“So your ex-wife is going to have a baby today?”
“Yes. And she took out a restraining order against me, so I can’t take this to the hospital to give to her myself. So I called her new husband, Steve, and asked him to meet me here. But I have to get to my job now, or I’ll lose my job. And then I won’t be able to continue the alimony payments. See? I’m stuck. And I want to do the right thing. Steve should be here any minute, but I’ve really got to go.”
“I see. What does Steve look like?” I asked him.
“Well, different than me,” he said with a halting laugh. “He’s tall and blonde, for one thing.”
“And what is your name?” I asked him.
“I’m Adam,” he said.
“Okay, Adam. I’ll wait here just a little bit with the briefcase full of money and the gift — by the way, if I may ask — what is the gift you got them?”
“A baby monitor,” he said.
“Oh, how nice! They’ll like that. Very useful! And how thoughtful of you.”
“Thank you so much. You are very kind. I’ll be off then. I’m sure Steve will be here any minute now.”
And Adam took off, in quite a hurry. I guess it would be painful to actually have to see Steve — the man who married your ex-wife.
About five minutes passed and a tall blonde man came walking up to the bench where I sat. He asked me if a man had been there recently, and I told him yes, he had just left.
“Are you Steve?” I asked him. “He left the briefcase for you.”
“Yes, I am. How did you know?”
“Adam told me,” I replied.
“Who is Adam?” He asked, when his cell phone started ringing.
I was confused as he answered his cell phone, but not for long.
When he opened his cell phone, the briefcase exploded — sending Steve and his body parts flying backwards, and sending me flying backwards over the bench, or so they told me later. I really don’t remember.
What I remember now is only what they told me later, when I awakened from the first of many surgeries that were to come.
This “Adam” was not married to the woman in the hospital, nor was Steve. And yes, Steve had died. The planted bomb was in the package that “Adam” had said was a baby monitor. The packets of money were fake. The woman in the hospital was “Adam’s” girlfriend, and she had broken up with “Adam” because of his repeated violence toward her. She and Steve had become a couple, and she had become pregnant. Evidently this was too much for “Adam” and he had extracted his revenge. The NYPD and the FBI were now looking for him everywhere.
As for me, I had lost my right arm and my right eye, and one leg below the knee. I had a fractured spine, and extensive burns over my torso — they said I was lucky to be alive. Lucky. Oh yes, I was lucky. Lucky me to have sat down next to a puppy-eyed violent lunatic bent on killing someone, who didn’t mind killing me in the process. Lucky me to be stupid enough to be hijacked into feeling some kind of sympathy for him. Oh yes, I sure felt lucky.
They told me it was unlikely I’d ever walk again. And I had been worried about jiggly thighs and a jiggly butt on that day.
I remembered my first impression of “Adam” and also what he asked me. “Do you have a minute?” As it turned out, looks like he had handed me the rest of my life, in a wheelchair.
Like I said, I might have started that day out differently, had I known.