The other day I saw a man.
He was walking across the street and a few paces ahead of me, such that his face was shielded from my gaze. I wasn’t sure why, but something about the man attracted my wandering eyes. In voyeur, I viewed him at a distance.
He walked with a purpose that befit the fitted suit he wore. He wove through fellow pedestrians as though they were stationary stones around which his sidewalk stream flowed—the water seemingly explaining slicked-back, long hair. I couldn’t help but notice how similarly we walked on opposite sides of the road. If I left my apartment a minute earlier, wearing a suit with gel in my hair, we would’ve been mirrored images in the median of the streets’ reflection.
I studied the man as if I was a primatologist doctoral student researching bipedal apes. I watched him until I knew him. His movements became my own, and soon I found his thoughts creeping into my consciousness. One, two, three. One, two, three, the man was counting his steps in triplets: maintaining paced strides amid the chaos of the weekday morning sidewalk.
With perverse pleasure, I inhabited his being. I became the man across the street. Suddenly, my dirty jeans and tattered backpack were replaced with a personally tailored suit and fine leather briefcase. I felt the weight of a platinum watch constraining my wrist and a gold wedding ring cutting off the circulation of my left hand. I even felt the touch of his wife in bed the previous night.
From my own body, an acute awareness of my perversion began to settle in. I felt an unease spread from the recesses of my mind. I had ceased to merely understand this man. I closed my eyes and what colored the dark canvas of my eyelids were his memories.
We were not so different. Apart from our current attire and a few select decisions along the unmarked trail of life, he and I were brothers. Where he had followed his aptitude for math to a career of monetary success, I had willingly neglected mine in favor of art and social science. Where I had hit the joint and joined the flow of the drum circle, he had felt the flow of liquor as it burned his throat releasing a testosterone filled roar that rattle the rafters of his frat house.
This man down the street led a life opposite—and opposed—to that of my own. Constantly on edge, never resting, he rushed from place to place—choice to choice—ever calculating how each decision would affect his future. Driven. Determined. Wrangling Life and commanding its movements. Whereas I had chose to sit back and marvel at Life’s freedom. In his mind, he was winning—though, I doubt he had ever stopped to think what game he was playing.
The sense of unease turned to a concrete tense of taboo. I had the distinct feeling that I was viewing something I was not supposed to. This strangers’ life was all too clear to me. I had never met him, and yet I knew him more intimately than anyone I had ever claimed to “love”. He walked a life parallel to mine, only ten paces ahead.
We were fast approaching the end. I knew the skyscraper on the other side of the next corner held his office. Only one more intersection, and he would vanish behind the anachronistic revolving doors of corporate society. I knew this, because he knew this.
He reach the intersection just as the light changed, forcing him to stop. In automated movements, he raised his left wrist, pulled back his sleeve, and looked at his watch. The triplets had hit a fermata, but time kept running away. I saw my chance. I could catch him! He stood on that street corner, reluctantly becoming one of the numerous stationary pedestrians that had obstructed his flow moments before.
Now was my chance to wade the waters and cross the traffic stream to meet this mystery of a person who was not so different from me. Yet, as I turned to step into the crosswalk, I hesitated. An unseen force pulled at my sleeve, informing me that the way across was blocked. I was as helpless as a settler in the “Oregon Trail” game that the suited man and I had loved as children. I had seen enough to know my place, and it was not on the suited man’s side of the avenue. Reluctantly I conceded to the tug of my reality, and said goodbye to my corporate self.
But just as I accepted that we should never meet, the man looked up from his gold, ticking bracelet of self-worth. His blue eyes met mine, melting our souls. This man was no stranger. The steely blue of his eyes matched my own cloudy hue. His furrowed brow had made permanent tracks crossed his forehead in the same way mine had. The moisturizer diligently applied to the dry patches around his nose and eyebrows glistens in the same way mine would (had I cared enough to apply it).
This man was no stranger. He was the me I would never be, and I was the luxury he abandoned to become the “man” his father told him to be. In him I saw security, wealth, a wife, and a son. I saw a life that had not been so distant in the recent past.
We stared into each others’ eyes for what seemed like a lifetime. Indeed, I saw a possible life in him. I lamented that life I had not lived, and yet in his face I saw the feeling was mutual. He looked at me with an expression of confusion. A softness weighed upon his brow as he raised it toward my life. He was intrigued. He sensed what I knew.
We stared across the street into another reality until the light changed. Hearing the tone of the crosswalk, he turned and mindlessly forged the street as blind to the world as those for whom the beeping was intended. I watched him disappear into the abyss of Wall Street steel and knew he was wondering the same thing as me; is that who I was meant to be?
The suited man felt the cold of platinum against the back of his hand as he pressed against the revolving door. A slight irritation pervaded his aura as his crossed the lobby floor to the elevator.
“Good morning, sir,” The security guard smiled.
“Morning, Jim,” replied the man, in a daze.
“Hey, you feeling alright?” Asked a concerned Jim, as the man entered the elevator.
The doors were closing as the man replied, “It’s nothin’, just some creep on the sidewalk across the street.”