He started following me on a Monday. I take the El to get around, mostly, because my college and my apartment are near stations. I know the subway systems aren't too great at the hour of day I make my way to school, but it's a sight better than walking.
By that Wednesday, I was pretty sure I was being followed. I mean, the poor guy was probably homeless and a beggar, what with the ratty coat he wore, and the fact that I never saw him anywhere but in the subway. But following me he was, smiling his gap-toothed grin whenever he noticed me noticing him. No one else did, moving around him like he was just an object. I snorted the first time I made that comparison. Looking at the businessmen and -women, the tourists, the suburbanites that crowded the subways, I thought cynically that they probably didn't see the poor man as more than an object.
But still, it was getting creepy. On Thursday, I confronted the man while on my way home from a half-day of classes.
“Are you following me?”
The man grinned up at me, stooped from age. When he was young, he likely had been my height—five and a half feet, more or less—but now he was old. I tried not to wince at his breath as he replied, “Don'cha know?”
“No. I don't.” And the train came, so I boarded, caught a rare window seat, and spent the time staring out said window. Wondering why the man would think I knew why he was following me.
Friday, there he was again, maybe ten steps away from me from the time my foot hit the last stair down to the stop under the street, to the time I got on the right train. Who are you? I wondered, watching him disappear into the shadows. But before I lost complete sight of him, I could have sworn I saw his lips form the words, Don'cha know?
My backpack heavy with textbooks on the way home, I almost forgot about the old man—until he got into my face, startling me as he said softly, “Don'cha know ya shouldn't look at people with yer eyes?”
What the hell does he mean by...
“Is he bothering you?” I looked up at the kind voice.
Dearest God in Heaven, he was... Just looking at him, I felt myself responding. Jesus, you're in a subway! Down! I hurried off, not even noticing the most interesting exchange of expressions between the well-dressed, tall dark stranger who had spoken, and the dirty, ugly homeless man.
Saturday, he was there again. So was the homeless man, but so was... he. It had taken a long, cold shower before I'd calmed down the night before, and there he was again. I immediately stared out the window, thinking about the worst camping trip I'd ever been on, when the port-a-potty overflowed.
It worked. Funny, though. The old man didn't give me his usual phrase when I passed him. He seemed asleep.
“Hello.” He sat down next to me, and thoughts of smelly toilets melted away with his voice.
Hellooo, hottie, I couldn't help but think... “Uh, hi. Thanks for yesterday.”
“It was my pleasure to assist you.”
I nearly fell into those hot blue eyes, before suddenly breaking eye contact and shifting over a seat. I couldn't afford to be... well... not today. I had a test.
I left a stop early, to walk off my distracting thoughts. I could feel those eyes following me, even after I turned a corner.
That evening... well. I only had morning classes, I was a college student, and it was a Saturday. Give a person a break, will you? I crashed in a friend's dorm and I took one of the few trains on Sunday out to my apartment.
They were arguing.
The old man was as dignified as a man could be, in that state, while the--HOT, say it!--younger man seemed close to losing his temper. Being a Sunday, there were few in the tunnel, but even though their voices echoed up and down the tunnel, no one spared them a glance. Oddly, they might have been speaking in another language, for I don't remember a word of what I heard.
I stepped forward to defend... whom? The homeless man, who spoke calmly, looking up at the clean, clean-shaven face towering above him; or the young man with blue fire in his eyes, spitting out words like nails as if to pin the old man to the wall?
The old man turned to stare at me, and I could see his eyes, a calm green, lock with mine. And I suddenly saw what he had meant.
I looked past the torn, filthy clothing, the ratty beard, the awful odor. I looked past the stoop, and the uneducated sound of his words. The dirt melted away, and before me stood an angel. Surely, that's what he was, in a clean, white long-sleeved shirt, khaki slacks, snow-white hair, and silvery-grey eyes.
My gaze moved slowly to the other, and my lips formed a silent word.
His eyes remained blue... but they crackled with the hot fire of gas flames, the vaporizing heat of the hottest stars. His hair was black and he wore red—clothes that shifted under my eyes as if they held the flames of Hell itself. If the old man was an angel, this man was a devil. He glared at me, and I quickly broke eye-contact, lest I get lost again in those eyes.
I looked back to the angel. He smiled serenely, and though I was still some ways away, he spoke softly. I remember every word as clearly as if it he speaks it now.
He said, “Don'cha know that nothing's as it seems? Don'cha know that good isn't always beautiful, that evil isn't always ugly? Don'cha know ya can't look at people with yer eyes?”