Yellow Crayon

Mr. Stesso was annoyed.

The 7:30 bus was late and an unshaven man with a large bag took the seat across from him two stops in. The bag cramped Mr. Stesso’s legs, and he could smell onions and restless sleep on the man’s breath.

Why on earth, Mr. Stesso thought, don’t more people have enough concern for personal presentation? He smoothed his own sleek charcoal gray tie. Mr. Stesso was a strong believer in good personal presentation. He knew it was how he got his managing position after just two years at the company.

The man across from Mr. Stesso stood up, hefting his bag across his shoulder.

Of course, thought Mr. Stesso. Of course we get off at the same stop.

Mr. Stesso stepped in close behind the man and looked down at the balding spot on the man’s head. I can’t believe that guy’s carrying something that looks like a diaper bag, Mr. Stesso thought. Some people have no sense of style. He considered his leather briefcase proudly.

The bus shuddered to a stop and the doors hissed open. The man walked directly ahead of Mr. Stesso, just too fast to pass, for a whole block. It’s almost as though he does it on purpose, thought Mr. Stesso.

Mr. Stesso worked on the third floor of a modern building. “It’s two blocks south of the hospital,” Mr. Stesso had told the people he birdwatched with, when they had asked. “A good location for when Marjorie from accounting got carried away with the staple remover.” They had all laughed quietly, so as not to startle the birds.

The morning air was still chilly, and the wind pulled at Mr. Stesso’s jacket. He held his tie down firmly. Nothing looked more ridiculous than a tie caught in the wind.

An especially frisky gust came howling through the buildings, pulling a paper from the man’s big, dark bag. The paper flew like a strange sort of bird, caught and helpless in the invisible current. The paper dived at Mr. Stesso, and he put one carefully shined shoe over it. Mr. Stesso loathed litter.

With a sigh, Mr. Stesso bent to pick up the paper. It was folded in half and had some faint letters across one side. Mr. Stesso squinted. At that moment, a ray sunlight, like an arrow of illumination, streaked through the clouds overhead and lit the paper in Mr. Stesso’s hand.

The paper read, GET WELL SOON MOMMA!!!, in yellow crayon.

Mr. Stesso stood, transfixed. In that one moment, he glimpsed the ever-looming tower of ignorance that follows each one of us, and the sight pierced him to the center.

The man with the bag, the bag that might well be an actual diaper bag, had turned and stood before Mr. Stesso.

Mr. Stesso was not used feeling the weight of his ignorance on his shoulders so all he said was, “Yellow crayon is practically illegible.”

The man smiled, the skin around his bloodshot eyes wrinkling pleasantly. “Yes, but it’s a happy color. You can’t argue with my daughter when she makes up her mind. Her mother’s the same way.”

Mr. Stesso handed him the card. “You’re on your way to see your wife now?”

The man nodded. “For a bit, anyway. I’ve got to take another bus to work. Thanks for catching this,” the man said, carefully tucking the card inside his bag. “I won’t hold you up.” He turned to go.

“Have you eaten?” Mr. Stesso blinked in surprise. The words had burst from him, grown wings from the place in his soul that knew suffering.

“Yes, thank you,” the man said. “I cut my daughters’ sandwiches in shapes this morning, and I ate the scraps along with an apple or two.”

“The scraps?” Mr. Stesso asked.

“Yes,” the man said, smiling again. “I used a cookie cutter on the sandwiches and there were scraps left over that didn’t fit into the shape. I hope they like it.” He laughed. “It made me so late I didn’t have time to brush my teeth.”

He has a nice laugh, Mr. Stesso thought. “Do you need a toothbrush?” he asked, feeling almost desperate.

The man laughed again. “No, I have one at my office.”

Mr. Stesso smoothed his tie nervously. He had never felt so helpless in his life.

“Thank you again, sir,” the man said. “I really don’t want to keep you.”

“I’ll order you a taxi,” Mr. Stesso said quickly. “You can stay longer with your wife if you don’t have to catch the bus.”

“I don’t—” the man began, but Mr. Stesso saw the thread of relief that hid in his weary eyes. What a good husband, thought Mr. Stesso.

“Please,” Mr. Stesso said. “Let me order it and cover the cost. What time should I tell them to be outside the hospital?”

“If you’re certain about this, 8:50 should give us enough time,” the man said. “Thank you.”

Mr. Stesso smiled. “Go and see your wife. I’ll make sure the taxi is waiting here when you come back out.” Tearfully silent, the man stepped forward to shake his hand. Then he hugged Mr. Stesso. Mr. Stesso hugged the man.

Ordering the taxi seemed to take no time at all. Mr. Stesso paced outside the hospital, hesitating to leave. With a stroke of uncommon inspiration and a glance at his watch, Mr. Stesso ducked into a colorful store across the street from the hospital. He had no idea what kinds of things daughters liked, but the pretty lady with striped glasses was happy to help him.

So there Mr. Stesso stood, waiting outside the hospital with briefcase and plastic bags clutched in both hands. The taxi pulled up just moments before the man ran out of the sliding doors. He was surprised to see Mr. Stesso. Mr. Stesso shyly handed the man the bags of gifts, and they shook hands again. Mr. Stesso shut the taxi door, waved, and the man was gone.

Mr. Stesso checked his watch. He would be late for work if he didn’t run for it. As Mr. Stesso ran through the warming morning air from the hospital to the modern building where he worked, he felt as if he were flying. His tie waved and flapped against his face and over his shoulder.

But Mr. Stesso could not help but be happy. The underside of his tie was yellow.