Hal used to view the world and pitch stale bread to the ravens out of this window.
He didn’t talk much.
A couple years ago I arrived at my office early, about 5 a.m. Already my eyes squinted from the sun, but the sight of food strewn on the driveway and scattered across the parking lot widened the lids.
“What the devil…?” I muttered as the little flock of gulls and ravens flapped themselves out of my way.
“Hello… good morning,” sang out a faint voice as I shuffled my way, delighting in the warm spring air, toward the door. It seemed to have come from the birds and I stared at them in an early morning daze of disbelief. Then I spun around, slowly, all the way, to find my greeter.
Nobody was in sight. The beautiful dawn belonged to me and the birds.
A few moments and a couple steps along the way the voice trilled again, “Up here!”
I looked at the building next door, and there, centered in the second floor window was a smiling face framed by fingers holding a cigarette on one side and a fist balancing a coffee cup on the other.
“Good morning,” I spoke back, quietly, as the morning at that hour was very gentle. “Feeding the birds?”
“Yup,” the face answered, softly.
That was the longest conversation we engaged in over the following year or so, although the scenario was repeated two or three times every week. Most often we just offered a smile, a wave, a salute, or a toast of the coffee cups to each other. I think we both enjoyed the big quiet and the birds in the peaceful mornings.
One day, during the second year, I cruised in as usual, and there sat my friend on the outdoor steps beside the driveway, smoking his cigarette and sipping his coffee. The whole person, up close, looked even younger than the face in the window.
That morning we enjoyed a short, pleasant conversation. Eventually I mentioned, “Know what? I don’t know your name.”
“Hal,” he answered.
And that was that. I was able to tack a name to my morning greetings then.
As this winter began I noticed one morning that Hal’s window was covered with plastic and snow had built up on the sill. The inside was pitch black. That was unusual, as Hal’s little apartment was hot and he kept the window open even in the bitterest of winter cold.
I had the feeling that Hal might not live there anymore, but I hoped I was wrong. One morning in mid-December I thought I saw colored Christmas lights shining through the plastic, and I imagined them draped around and around a tiny tree in Hal’s small living room, and I was happy.
Two days before Christmas I ran into Hal shopping in the grocery store. He told me he had moved in November. He’s still in town and it’s a small town, so I know we’ll see each other every now and then, but I feel a little sadness that he’s not in the little second floor apartment next door now.
We didn’t develop much of a friendship, in a traditional sense. Matter of fact, we don’t seem to have much in common, really.
On the other hand, we did develop a warm bond just through seemingly small, everyday encounters in a friendly spirit. I’m thinking that must be important.
Now, sometimes when I arrive at my office on a dark, cold morning and the stark driveway is devoid of stale bread and dancing ravens, I look up at Hal’s window, which is still covered with plastic and snow drifted halfway up, and smile to myself as I see the colored lights from a gas station two buildings down the street reflecting like a string of sparkles on a tiny tree.