I do not know his name. Nor do I know his age, ethnicity and the reason for his labored gait. His English is limited at best, his smile infectious, warm and at the ready. A small man with a bum leg which he is forced to lift, drag and scuffle with each step, he is pure joy on my early morning walks along the beach.
When we first “met”, each of us was bundled up in parkas, hats and gloves which spared us the dangers of freezing to death while enabling us to enjoy the splendor of the Atlantic. Our respective walks begin on opposite ends of the beach; our rendezvouses always begin from afar when I spot his unique carriage in the distance, heading toward me with a zeal inconsistent with what appears to be each painful step.
He always walks with great avidity and never has a companion. I walk alone or with girlfriends. He is untethered to earphones making him privy to the crash of the ocean against the sand, the hum of the cars full of commuters (who are, no doubt, envious of those of us lucky enough to be able to take this walk each morning) and the aromas of the sea mixing with exhaust fumes. I, on the other hand, am either chatting animatedly with the girls or am plugged into early morning radio silliness while ruminating or contemplating or obsessing or overthinking or maybe just zoning out. He is feeling each physical step while I am hoping that my FitBit is accurately counting mine.
Our schedules overlapped three or four times before I was sure that he recognized me. He is easy to spot from a distance, but my less conspicuous stride and being bundled up, I assumed that, to him, I looked like all the other middle-aged women who take this walk. It was during one of those moments, one day last winter, that we seamlessly moved from a gentle nod to a spirited high five as we passed one another. And now we have them every day.
I love our high fives. It happens so naturally now: we hold hands while he nods, smiles and mutters “hello, good morning” in his broken yet eager English. Sometimes, we get to do it twice – once in each direction. That happened just this morning. This time, as we were grasping hands in the air, celebrating our meeting up, and the smell of the ocean and the fact that we both hit the ground at 6:30 a.m. (me with coffee in hand) I held up one finger – the international symbol for “hold on” – and took out my phone. He knew there was a selfie in his future (which made me adore him a little more) and he went on to perform even better than I could have hoped for.
I still don’t know his name and probably never will. On the rare occasion that we don’t meet up, my walk feels just a little less wonderful. If I don’t see him, I wonder if he is okay. I love his energy and tenacity and drive. He makes my day a little bit better just by walking in my direction.
Everyone should have a man they do know to high five.