There are two random strangers that I see practically every day. They are part of my life, though they remain random strangers. Even if I exchange a word or two with them, their stranger status doesn’t change. It’s just that I see them so often I am obliged to say, “Hey,” every now and then, lest the alternative, acting like they are invisible when really I’m trying to pretend I’m invisible, offends them. Frankly, I doubt they’d care one way or the other, but that’s besides the point. These two strangers strike me as unusual. More odd than most strangers I notice, and my wallflower nature gives me lots of opportunities to notice.
Stranger One: A very old Asian man lives in my neighborhood. I don’t know exactly where, but I suspect he lives somewhere on my square block – not on my street, but nearby. He walks around the block over and over and over and over and over. I wouldn’t be able to type ‘over and over’ enough times to capture how often he slowly makes his way around the block. It is as though he is compelled to move constantly, albeit at his age-inhibited pace. He walks, rain or shine. He wears an old-fashioned brown hat with a brim and has heavy dark-framed glasses. He carries a string of beads. I imagine they are Tibetan prayer beads, but the could just as easily be Catholic rosary beads. I’m not sure he speaks English. He seems to say “Hi,” now and then, but the sound comes out more as a grunt than a word, so it’s hard to say. I’m not the best judge of age, but if I had to guess, I’d put him around 90. It amazes me that he walks so constantly, and I wonder whether he lives alone or has family that watches over him – people that tell him not to leave the block, but let him walk for hours because he can’t help himself. I wonder what goes through his mind on his endless journey around the block. Whatever it is, there is something oddly comforting in seeing him pass by the house dozens of times a week.
Stranger Two: A tall-ish woman with long-ish dishwater, light brown, hair, generally tied messily up at the back of her neck, works in an office in the same office building that I work in. She drives a small maroon Toyota pick-up truck. She has removed the leading ‘to,’ and trailing ‘ta,’ so the back of the truck loudly says, ‘YO.’ She wears jeans that are too big, and sag down on her hips, not quite so far as the ridiculous kids that wear their jeans half way down their asses, but approaching that level. Her black t-shirts are in the multiple ‘XL’ range, which probably helps hide just how far her jeans are sliding down. When she’s walking up to the building, she always cuts through the ‘garden,’ inste
ad of walking up the sidewalk, and when I’m outside she feels the need to say she’s working on taking the appropriate route instead of walking through the plants. Now for the exciting part, though. This woman has a large parrot that is always with her, sometimes perched on its owners hand, other times on her shoulder. When the bird sits on her shoulder, it bobs its head up and down dramatically with each step the woman takes.
So far, I’m not a fiction writer, but if I someday decide to give it a shot, I imagine my observations of random strangers like this will help me when it comes to character-building.