I stood there for a few minutes looking back at him and he held my gaze which , quite frankly, was more than I expected. Neither of us talked and that seemed somehow appropriate. The wind kicked up a little bit from the west, stirring up some of that fine top layer of sand that sits around in the desert just waiting to be lifted up into a dust cyclone. The guy in the Army jacket sniffed and rubbed his nose, then gave me a last look and turned, walking over toward the water tower. I felt incredibly awkward, like I owed something more to the moment. As the dust stirred around my feet I glanced over at my truck and thought what I guess would be the ‘usual thing’…namely that I did not want anything to do with homeless people. Not that I knew for certain that this stranger met that criteria, but it was what I assumed based on my own preconceptions. Going with my initial thought I took about twenty steps back in the direction of my truck, thoughts nagging at me the entire time. Enough was finally enough, and I realized I had to do something different, so I veered my course back toward the water tower. As I did I looked over and realized he was looking right at me again. Now I really had no choice.
It only took me a few minutes to reach the tower however by then the wind was really blowing and the sand, caught up in the air, was cutting unpleasantly against my skin. I looked past the tower and saw a tidy little dust cyclone that was dancing around, caught for the moment in the same place.
So, I arrived at the tower, stepping onto the concrete pad and extending an enthusiastic “Hello!” in the man’s direction. I sounded more pleasant than I felt, a fact not helped much by the lack of reply I received. So now I was stuck occupying a weathered concrete pad underneath a defunct water tower with someone I did not know and who apparently was not going to be much of a conversationalist. I considered that a challenge.
“How ya doing?”
More silence, although he did shift around a bit from where he was sitting.
“Lots of dust coming this way.” Sometimes I love to state the obvious. I let that gem hang in the air and returned to looking out toward the west. I promptly received two eyes full of sand and ducked my head down, turning away from the wind and rubbing to get it out.
“Here…sit down here.” He had spoken, apparently out of pity for me, and was indicating a spot near where he had his back propped up against one of the tower’s support legs. I eyeballed my truck again but decided that the wind and dust were blowing hard enough to make that journey seem like much less than a lot of fun. As I sat down, the wind ceased completely and the dust disappeared. This was apparently the perfect place to sit. After blinking my eyes repeatedly, and just as often resisting the urge to gouge at them with my dusty fingers, I managed to clear up my vision. I looked over at the man who spoke his name while holding out his hand.
“Vann…with two n’s,” and his eyes twinkled when he said it, as though it were some incredibly funny joke that I should understand. Which, as you know, I did not. The man had a name with two n’s when he only needed one.
to be continued…