Not Of This World
I watch the rain splatter on his brown, leather loafers. His wrinkled hands, dotted with age, are clasped between his knees. Gray wisps stick out under his bowler hat. He has a properness about him—British, perhaps. In a city as large as Portland, it’s not uncommon to encounter expatriates at the bus stop.
“It’s a rainy one, eh?” he asks, eyes trained at the sky. Not British. Irish, maybe?
“Sure is,” I answer, leaning against the plastic back of the shelter.
We sit in silence for a moment, listening to the staccato of droplets. A few simple words exchanged, and I like him. I place great weight on first impressions, and this unassuming, well-tailored old man has my heart. He reminds me of Dad before the cancer.
I look at my watch. The chemo appointment starts in thirty minutes. Where is the bus?
The old man leans forward, places a hand out into the shower. An odd thing to do, but endearing—to touch the water as it falls from the sky, as a child might. An act of wonder.
He turns back to look at me, his hand still stretched in front of him.
“I’m going to make it stop raining now,” he says, his foggy blue eyes driving into mine.
And it stops.
The rain just… stops. In an eerily abrupt way, the air is suddenly dry. The droplets that were mid-air never even made it to the ground. The rain disappeared. I gasp and sit up.
“Wow, some timing there,” I say. “How…” I shake my head.
“Shall I make it come back?” he asks.
I simply stare.
“Yes, I think I will,” he says, and just as the words leave his mouth, the rain suddenly returns. Droplets that had disappeared moments before return to their place in the falling order and splash upon the ground. It was as if we were watching a movie and this old man had the remote control.
I am glued to my seat. My body is still as my mind tries desperately to process what I’ve seen.
“How… how did you know?” I ask.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen, Emma. I made it happen.”
“But…” I shake my head.
What did he just say? Panic sets in. I stand up and start gathering my things.
“Please don’t be afraid,” he says.
“How do you know my name?” I demand, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. I take several steps back and glance around, looking for other people. Who will hear me if I scream? If it came to it, I could probably disable him. He’s old and appears frail. A knee to the groin would probably do the trick. Adrenaline surges through my body; I’m suddenly sweating.
“I mean you no harm at all,” he says calmly. His hands have returned to his lap. “I can understand your confusion, but I promise you there is no reason to be frightened.”
He hasn’t moved.
“Emma, I’d like to give you something,” he says. “A gift.”
As a practical, city-raised, street-worn woman, I know this is out of control. This man is a total creep. He’s getting progressively weirder and I need to get out of here immediately. Right?
But my intuition says otherwise. The brief panic has disappeared, and I am left with a supreme sense of calm and well-being. The warmth and affection I felt when I first met this stranger—it has returned.
“Tell me how you know my name,” I say softly.
“I know many things,” he responds casually. “I am not of this world.”
Resisting an urge to roll my eyes, I collapse onto the bench beside him and sigh.
“Well, obviously not,” I say. If nothing else, this encounter will make one hell of a story. “So, what is this gift?”
He glances at me and grins. “My gift to you,” he says, “is that I will solve your problem.”
Well, that’s not what I was expecting. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“Just what I said. Pick a problem, only one, and I will solve it for you.”
“Ah,” I say. “This is a genie thing. You want me to make a wish.”
“No, not at all,” he says firmly. “I want you to choose a problem for me to solve.”
“But, when people make a wish, don’t they usually wish for the solution to a problem?” I challenge. “Money solves the problem of being poor. Companionship solves the problem of being lonely. I feel like we’re talking semantics here.”
“No.” He sits up straighter, clasps his hands tighter. “On the contrary, wishes are often for material items, which often cause more problems. Instead, I want you to choose a problem, and I will provide a solution.”
“Alright,” I concede. “I’ll play ball.” I pull my feet up onto the bench and hug my knees. My jeans are wet from the rain. I bury my face in my arms to think.
“I’m sorry, Emma, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
I unfold out of my ball and stare at him with frustration.
“I’m convinced whatever I choose will have unintended consequences,” I say.
He looks at me with a gentle smile, kindness in his eyes. “Dear girl,” he says, “that’s a risk you must take.”
I’m on the brink of tears. The words tumble out before I can stop myself.
“Cancer,” I whisper. “Solve the problem of cancer.”
I hear the bus approaching. The old man stands and adjusts his hat, looks down at me. “Nice to meet you, Emma,” he says. He walks away down the sidewalk, rounds a corner, and disappears.
I wipe my eyes and gather my things. As I’m counting out coins for the bus driver, my cell phone starts to buzz. I dig it out of my bag, sinking into a seat at the back of the bus.
“Hey mom,” I say. “Sorry, the bus was late. I’m on my way. You’re not going to believe-“
“Emma,” she sobs. “He’s gone. Daddy’s gone.”