The sun had long set over the desert city of Phoenix, as the driver dropped me off at the airport. The last three days had been spent driving new Toyota cars in the mountains around a resort called the Boulders.
Although this was a wonderful experience, I was tired. The left knee was hurting from recent surgery just a few weeks prior to my journey. The walk from the ticket counter to the American gate was going to be a painful trek.
Going through security was not pleasant, as I attempted to explain to security that my artificial knee was what set off the alarm, not some explosive device in a hidden dynamite vest.
“It is my knee replacement,” I mumbled as security searched my entire body wearing surgical gloves. Leaning on my cane. I felt like an ear of corn being shucked for the 4th of July picnic.
Walking through the terminal, I found the corridor occupied by only a few slow-moving people. But there was another person just ahead of me walking with a cane. I hoped he had better luck getting through security than I had.
He had a strong gait, but appeared to lean heavily on the cane. I couldn’t see his face. He was wearing a grey Tobaggon hat perched high on his head, an old corduroy coat and black slacks. His shoes were bright red. I thought that maybe he was a wayward Santa who had fallen on hard times.
Closing in on him, I noticed a Little Man come out of the men’s restroom. He was holding a mop while pushing a large wheeled trash can. Corduroy Man looked at the little man, then stopped a few feet in front of him. I could not understand what was happening.
At first, Little Man seemed startled. Then Corduroy Man began to speak softly while placing his palms together as though praying. The Little Man smiled, placed his hands together, bowed to the Corduroy Man and began to speak in what appeared to be the same language. At first there was shyness in the Little Man, but the more they conversed, the more animated and genuinely happy he appeared.
The Corduroy Man moved closer, placed his hands on the shoulders of the Little Man and whispered in his ear. Then Little Man fell to the floor crying, holding on to the legs of Corduroy Man. Slowly Little Man was lifted up by Corduroy Man and I heard him say in English, “God loves you and has a plan for you. Be faithful and remember what I have told you.”
Little Man smiled, and his hand brushed tears from his eyes as he began to push the trash cart down the corridor.
I stood there amazed for a moment. But Corduroy Man had disappeared. I saw him ahead in the distance and hurried to catch up. But I lost him again. Where had he gone? Moments later I spotted him seated at a nearly empty gate. He was leaning on his cane talking to a soldier. I took a seat a short distance away just to the side and watched.
Words were spoken though shrouded in coughs and sobs. They were holding hands. Corduroy Man rose and placed a hand on the young soldier’s head, speaking words I could not hear. Then he shuffled away and disappeared, never looking my way. The soldier sat for a moment, then slowly rose and started down the corridor.
Walking fast, I closed on him and thanked him for his service. He told me he was headed back to Afghanistan for the third time. I told him to be careful. He admitted he had been apprehensive and worried about his wife who was two months pregnant and staying with her folks in Atlanta.
He smiled, shook my hand and said he felt much better now. “I’m told it is going to be a precious little girl who will look like her mom, and I will be there for her birth,” he said, as he walked away.
I finally arrived at Gate # 6. I took a seat and saw no one familiar.
Editor’s Note: The second installment of this story will appear in next week’s paper.