“If you ever want to get coffee…”
He holds out his hand, and tucked between two fingers is a small scrap of paper. Covered in ink, it is hard to find his number between the words of the poem he has just read aloud, words personal and raw. In accepting the paper, I am accepting more that just his number. He has trusted me with his words as well.
I do not know him. Only his smile, and the confident, yet nervous way he went out of his way to speak to me. The thick beard gracing his chin, the colour of the tattoos running up his arm. And the piece of his soul he bared to this room full of strangers, opening his words and his heart to them. Before risking his pride to come up to me, and pass me this scrap of paper…
So I take my own risk.
With both of us busy, coffee is organised half a week away.
This time he has dark glasses joining the cap which seems to be a part of him. It does seem like his beard grows from it. And the twisting colour of his tattoos is hidden by cling wrap, protecting the fresh marks imprinted into his skin.
He is not what he seems. Reluctantly he lets me buy my own coffee, and we sit outside where we can talk easier.
Much about him fits the skin he wears. He surfs I now learn, though he is kept from salt water two weeks till his newest tattoo is healed. He has done a lot of odd jobs, drives an old car (and has no interest in them as long as they run), and has a dog that he clearly loves. He is older than I first thought, but that is only fair as I am younger than he had expected.
He also studies. Is intelligent. And is an endearing mixture of confidence, and a nervousness expressed in his inability to stay completely still. And there is something about his eyes. Tired eyes despite the coffee, but curious, and he apologises for rubbing at them so much.
Maybe it is not his eyes. Or his smile, though I like that too. Maybe it is just something about him, something that cannot be broken down into such meager portions.
And after coffee, and books, he sends me a short piece he has written.
Inside, my heart aches and I feel my own smile grow thinking of him.
It is not enough though. And I realise this after we attend another poetry slam night, this time together. Where he does not let me buy my own drink, unlike he did with my coffee. Where we kiss in his car when he drops me back home.
“I should go,” I say, half-pulled away.
“You should.” He says, getting the words out before kissing me again. I struggle against the laughter bubbling inside, wondering if he would understand why I laugh, how classic that interaction is. Yet it is new to me.
But walking away from the car that laughter seeps away, drying out my heart as if it had never washed over it.
There is something about him, this bearded man. With his caps and beanies. With his raw words, and his soft heart so thinly protected by cynicism. But it is not enough.
Because somewhere along the line, my heart has gained a thicker shield than cynicism. And though he chipped splinters from it, better armed than most, I could barely feel his warmth.
I wish I had. I reached out with my own arms, so bare of any ink but that that flows through my veins, and yet still it was not enough.
See, another’s smile is still the one I see in the darkness of my closed eyes. His blue eyes the ones that still pierce me. The tattoo on his forearm remembered so well I almost can trace its outline on my own skin…
The shield that has been built since his betrayal, meant to protect me from all that he did, has instead walled him in. And others out.
One day though. One day I will shatter this shield that I never wanted, that I tried so hard to keep from carrying.
I’m sorry I did not get to meet you then, my bearded man. Don’t let me add to your cynicism; your soft heart is too precious for that.