Being angry was nothing new for Michael. He was born irritated; had heard the stories ad nauseam from his mother and aunts. If he was crossed, he remembered. To forgive and forget was not on his horizon. He tried to ignore mistakes, screw ups and off-hand remarks by others. He was never aggressive, but everything stuck. He hated it, wished he were a duck where water trickled off his backside.
The line in Harel’s Bagels inched forward. At this rate his bagel would be stale, the cream cheese dry, and the coffee cold. He swung his shawl in a wide sweep and almost knocked a cup of coffee over on the table next to him, the woman sitting there gave him a sour stare. He didn’t care. He was pissed.
A slender Somali woman and her daughter stepped in line behind him, both wearing traditional dress, “Mommy, look at the man with the garbassar!” the girl pointed at his shawl.
“Quiet Ianna. You talk too much!” the mother said. The barista was in sight.
“He is a timo cadde!”
“Shush,” she said to the girl; “His hair is not white, it is timaha timo cad.”
“You mean blonde, mommy?”
“Yes. Now be quiet or I won’t get you a cookie!”
Michael smiled. At least he wasn’t old enough to be a timo cadde! He reached the “order here” sign, requested a Grande and a bagel, paid the ridiculous price and went to wait for his breakfast.
Unlike the queue to order, he was served quickly, took his food and moved toward the door, passing the woman with her daughter on his way. The little girl waved and said, “Bye timaha timo cad.”
He laughed, smiled at the girl and left the coffee shop. Her mother shook her head, jerked on the child’s hand and pulled her forward.
Michael had an art gallery on the lower East Side. He was in the people pleasing business, working with affluent clientele who more often than not felt they were owed something. When a demanding patron came into the gallery he labored hard at laying aside baggage from any previous interactions, put on his happy face, and sold. The schmoozing taxed; an occupational hazard.
The street was packed with morning commuters. A text message came from Dwight who was running late. There was no point in rushing now. Dwight’s breezy and flamboyant disposition did little to diminish his lack of foresight. He enjoyed the man’s repartee, good taste and artistic judgement, but found his shoot from the hip schedule changes annoying. At a crosswalk he paused … he had a little time to kill. Better to murder an hour than Dwight!
After looking around he took a detour down a side street. A block down was a small park between two buildings. He found a bench next to a fountain where water dribbled into a moss-filled basin and sat down to eat his breakfast. A light breeze meandered around the towering buildings and rustled the maple leaves overhead, muting the city’s hubbub.
Bagel and drink half consumed, he bagged the bread, stood, and shelved his preoccupations and crossed the street to an antique shop tucked between two brownstones.
Stepping into the store, street noise faded away. A young woman in her mid-twenties looked up from her desk halfway down the narrow shop to say, “Can I help you?”
Michael smiled and said, “No, just looking.”
“Well, if you need any help or have any questions, please feel free to ask.”
He strolled the cluttered aisles drenched with age and evaluated the furniture, glassware and paintings. A paneled room in back encircled by a dusty, smudged bay window, overlooked an enclosed courtyard where there was shelves of pottery. Nested on a narrow ledge was a petite white swan, an apparition from childhood.
As a kid, he’d received a Belleek porcelain swan from his grand-mother. It sat in a place of honor on a bookshelf next to their fireplace. He would carefully take it from its perch, turn it over in his hands and admire the buttermilky hue of the glistening china. Then one day it was gone, dropped on the tiled hearth by his cousin who grabbed it from the shelf as she was held by his uncle. He never forgave her.
“How much is this swan?” he inquired as he came down the aisle toward her desk.
“That one’s a hundred and fifty dollars. It doesn’t have painting on it like the later ones.”
“I’ll take it,” he said. With a less agitated heart and a well cushioned box, he left the shop and continued on his way toward the gallery. As he rounded the corner down the street, he almost ran over the Somali woman and her daughter, the sidewalk in front of them filled with bagel carnage and spattered coffee that ran into the gutter.
“Ianna, you clumsy girl, look what you have done! We won’t have anything to eat this morning!” The girl sobbed and leaned against the wall of a nearby apartment building. When her mother recognized Michael, she turned away from him and faced the traffic on the street.
The girl cried, “Timaha timo cad,” ran to him, and threw her arms around his legs almost dislodging the box with the swan.
Perplexed, Michael took the little girl’s hand and led her to her mother who wept gently by the side of the busy street. Looking for an escape, Michael saw a food truck down the street parked in the alley next to his building, “Ma’am, please come with me,” as he gestured toward the truck.
She vigorously shook her head no. After repeated requests, she was finally coaxed in the direction of the food wagon. Michael, still holding the girl’s hand walked beside the two.
At the truck Michael shouted to Luis, the owner, for two coffees, a milk and doughnuts. He found some steps that lead to a ground level apartment and had the mother and her daughter sit while he went back to the truck for the order. Half way there, Luis brought the food to him. Service was quicker than at the coffee shop, and a lot more personal.
The mother held the girl close and rocked her on her lap as Michael handed it to her. He watched them, transfixed, flashing back to another time and place. Finally, he said, “How’s the food?”
“Thank you,” the woman replied.
“This has not been a good start to your day, has it?” She shook her head no and cast her eyes downward; “I guess some days are like that. I hope yours gets better.” On impulse, Michael opened the box with the swan. “I hope this will make it nicer for you, young lady,” and gave the box to the little girl. The girl pulled back the bubble wrap and squealed with delight. The mother, embarrassed, attempted to take the box from the girl and give it back to Michael.
“No,” he said, “Today you taught me something I needed to learn a long time ago. We can visit anger, but we don’t have to live there.” He walked up the steps and continued on his way. Dwight was probably waiting. Even if he was, he still had time to call his cousin for a bagel and coffee next week at Harel’s.
Doug was a Christian Brother, an English teacher/counselor and is now a retired Licensed Psychologist. He has a twice-monthly column in the Duluth News Tribune and has a story published in the Nemadji Review. He placed third in 2020 in the Jade Ring’s short story contest of the Wisconsin Writer’s Association.