A Chance Encounter
by Fred Shelton
At 4:15 a.m., the New Orleans−bound passenger train made its scheduled stop at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I disembarked, along with several other passengers, one of whom I recognized as a student at Carey, which is a small liberal arts college I attend across town.
Two of the passengers scurried to a waiting taxi and departed. I found a phone booth and starting dialing for a cab when I noticed the Carey student sitting on a bench near the loading platform.
“Are you going to the college?”
“Yes.” She answered without looking at me.
“Would you like to share the price of a taxi?”
“I’ll wait for the city bus.”
“The buses don’t run until 6 a.m.”
I looked at her in disbelief. “Don’t you think it could be dangerous waiting here alone?”
She didn’t answer, but her body language told me to back off.
I finished dialing for a cab, which arrived within minutes.
“Sure you don’t want a ride? I’ll pay for it.”
The next day, at the college, I tried to forget the train station incident, but her unusual behavior had piqued my interest — to the extent I went to several places on campus in an attempt to discover her identity. Looking through last year’s yearbook at the library, I found her photo: Marilyn Sue Blackwell, Tupelo, Mississippi, a sophomore majoring in sociology.
After searching the campus for several days, I spotted her in the college cafeteria, dining alone.
“May I sit down?”
“I guess you made it okay the other night?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
I sat in silence, pondering what to say next, when I realized my attraction to her. After several minutes, which seemed more like an eternity, I blurted out the first words which came to my mind: “Oklahoma is showing in Thomas Auditorium tonight. Would you like to go with me to see it?”
She seemed confused and embarrassed. Without looking at me, she got up from the table and walked away. I sat there, thinking what I may have said to offend her, when I saw her returning.
She stopped in front of the table. “I guess I at least owe you an explanation. To begin with, I’m not usually asked out.”
“This is why. I was born this way.” She held up her left hand. Her thumb and index finger were missing and her other three fingers were nothing more than nubs. “Still want to go out with me?” I detected a note of cynicism in her voice.
Oh my goodness! I had never seen such! Imagine the comments people make when they see her hand. And the stares! They may even think she’s some kind of circus sideshow. I’m going to leave.
But during my adolescence I had been raised by my grandmother who taught me axioms which had become so embedded in my psyche I doubt if I could ever depart from them. Among them were: “If you don’t have something good to say about somebody, don’t say anything. Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. A soft answer turns away anger.” But the one reverberating through my mind now: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” prevented me from leaving.
“Of course I still want to go out with you. I would love to.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Her countenance changed into a look of gratitude so sincere and genuine it must have come from the very depths of her heart.
“I live in Bryant Hall.” She grinned.
“I’ll be there at 7:15.” I returned her grin.
Then she strolled away.
Fred Shelton lives in Virginia with his wife and five dogs and has had nonfiction published in The Washington Times, The Burg, and fiction in Dew on the Kudzu and Eskimo Pie. He is working on his first novel. This story is loosely based on a true story and has never been published.