A Bag of Rocks: A Short Story
I could see even from the other end of the street that the man’s gait was unsteady and slow. I imagined that he had been walking for some time. I thought I might help him get to his destination. Maybe get some karma points or whatever. I could probably use a few.
I had time. And I had seen him before. I pulled up next to him just as he reached the intersection. He was a smaller fellow, clad in a navy hoodie and cargo pants, worn backpack slung behind one shoulder. Older than me, but not old.
“Good morning,” I said as the passenger side window slid down.
He turned my way slowly and looked at me blankly, not slowing his gait a bit.
“‘Morning,” he said with a curt nod.
“Can I give you a lift somewhere?” I glanced down the street to see if any traffic was coming.
He stopped walking. “A lift?” It was as if the entire concept was foreign.
“Yeah, a lift,” I said as I came to a stop. “I can give you a ride. I can take you to wherever you’re going.”
Again with the blank look. “I… I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re walking,” I pointed out. “You must be going somewhere.”
“I’m just walking. That’s all.”
He slid the backpack off his shoulder. It hit the sidewalk with a resounding thump. The man massaged his shoulder. Whatever he was carrying was apparently quite heavy.
“So, um…” I looked in my rear-view mirror. Another SUV was approaching. “You… you don’t need a ride anywhere.”
The man shook his head. “Just out walking.”
“I see. Okay.”
The SUV pulled up behind. I heard the bleat of the horn. Time to move on.
“Alright, well…” I offered a perfunctory wave. “Have a good day, sir.”
I saw as I drove off that he offered his own wave.
I made it to the office early, about twenty minutes before my scheduled time. I made a pot of coffee. I poured my own cup, adding a dash of cream and more than a dash of sugar. I checked my email and perused Facebook. Upon punching in, I continued coding the mobile app that I had been working on. I was still struggling with how to integrate our database with e-commerce functionality so that customers could order parts directly from the app. Properly calculating shipping and handling, then adding that to the subtotal, was getting a bit messy.
I would probably figure it out, though. I usually did.
I chose to head straight home, rather than stop at the grocery store on the way. I had a couple of microwave meals in the freezer. I would just go tomorrow.
I turned down my street and saw a phalanx of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, as well as a group of onlookers nearby. I pulled into my driveway and as I got out of my vehicle saw a neighbor kid walk by, heading away from the crowd.
“Hey,” I called out. “What happened?”
“Some dude got hit by a car, I guess. They drove off. Cops are looking for witnesses.”
I nodded a curt thank you and headed towards the crowd. Patty, from two doors down, saw me approach.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “Just terrible. That poor man…”
“Was it someone from the neighborhood?” I asked her, but she was too overcome to speak.
I maneuvered my way into the center of the crowd. I saw a police officer and an EMS guy crouched over a still figure on the ground. A pool of blood issued from the left side of his head.
“I heard the car just tear down the street,” my next door neighbor, Albert, said to another officer, a younger guy who I imagined was a rookie. The Rookie hurriedly scribbled notes as Albert spoke. “I heard a screech and then a thump and that’s when I looked out my front window.”
“Did you see the vehicle?” the officer asked.
“I did,” Albert said. “A black Camaro. I think a 2016. I know my cars. I used to work in the service department at--”
“Did you get a plate number?”
“No,” Albert said softly. “Sorry.”
The EMS stood and I looked down to see the face of the walking man from this morning, the side of his head drenched in blood, his jaw askew.
Somehow I knew it would be him.
Yet another police officer, a big, beefy fellow with a booming voice, addressed the crowd. “Does anyone here know this man? Does he…” A pause. “Did he live in this neighborhood?”
His question was met only with murmured nos. I decided to speak up.
“I don’t know him,” I said. “Not really. I offered him a ride this morning. He said no. He said he was just walking around.”
Patty spoke up. “I’ve seen him, a couple times. Walking around. I never offered him a ride, though.” She took a deep breath. “That poor man. That poor, poor man.”
The Rookie stepped over and joined our circle.
“No ID on him,” he said to the other officer. “No wallet. Nothing. But I did find this.”
He hefted a backpack. The heavy backpack from this morning.
“What’s in it?” the other officer said.
The Rookie pulled it open and they peered inside.
“The hell is this?” the officer said. He reached into the bag and pulled out a rock. Then another. He looked at the Rookie quizzically.
The Rookie shook his head. “I thought maybe… amateur geologist or something? But half of this is just gravel. Dude was carrying around a bag of rocks. A nutjob, I guess, huh?”
No immediate reply told the Rookie that perhaps he misspoke.
“Well, he has to have some family somewhere,” the officer finally said.
The Rookie nodded slightly and stood there, silent, holding a bag of rocks.
I went home after a few minutes and popped a spaghetti and meatballs frozen dinner into the microwave. I looked at Facebook on my phone while I waited the four minutes and thirty seconds it took to heat it up. I saw that Beth was in Cozumel-- AGAIN-- with that rich asshole. They had posted some pictures. She still looked good. He still looked like a rich asshole.
The next day, I didn’t get to work too early… just a couple of minutes before start time. Somebody had already made coffee. I told Keith about the guy and the bag of rocks.
“Weird,” he muttered and turned back to his screen. He was coding a new page for the company website. Easy work if you can get it, I thought.
I was still on the shipping and handling issue with the app. I could finally get it to show up on screen, but now the drop down for the different shipping options didn’t work.
I would probably figure it out, though.
I usually did.