He is a man with stories to tell. One glance at the back of his unruly head says so. I have time to spare ~ the bank line-up is long and slow. I wait for him to turn enough to give me some excuse to strike up conversation.
Standing six-foot-something, his black T-shirt and well-worn jeans are covered in a film of what looks like fresh dirt and grassy bits. A link of keys dangles from his left hip. Chin length ash-white hair stands out raggedly, at all angles, from his aged head; his face is smothered in a tightly curled, wiry gray beard. The crowd around us is ethnically diverse and he stands out ~ a giant, white, anomaly.
I watch him tease a nearby patron's child. The child is not intimidated by his size or fearsome appearance. And then my study turns to me suddenly, looking directly into my curious gaze, and states, "They are never scared of me. They just aren't. Them and animals. The others now, they hate me. Just hate me. But not the kids and the animals."
You just never know what you're going to get in a floating encounter. There you are, just cruising down your own private river, floating with the current, letting it carry you where it will, and kersplash! You're sharing your gliding space with a different paddler then you ever could have anticipated. I was eager to hear more from that unorthodox fellow with the brook-no-argument views.
"Yeh. 'Been an angel for the past thirty years."
"An angel?" I query, voice even, while I inwardly scan any mental files that may help me interpret whatever may be coming next.
"Yup. A guardian angel. I'm a tough one. Been protectin' folks for a long, long time." Ah. There it is. He's a Guardian Angel ~ as in, civilian-red-beret-wearing-defender-of-public-safety "angel." I am mildly disappointed, thinking wistfully that a chat with a real-deal, sent-from-heaven angel in the bank line up could have made for good dinnertime conversation.
"I'm down sixty pounds right now ~ been real sick with pneumonia for six months ~ but you shoulda' seen my muscles before. 'Woulda' scared you good."
I grin, never losing eye contact. "It sounds like you're pretty tough. I'm sorry you were so sick."
"Yeah, well. I was pretty much dead, but I'm standin' here now." And he rattles through stories of tough stuff and heroism spanning the greater Alberta area, all the while professing his deep hatred for everyone. "I do. I hate all people equally."
I find this very amusing as he's talking rather animatedly to me at just that moment, and, presumably, I am one of the hated! "Yeh. You watch. You see me cross my arms like this," (he obligingly demonstrates, an unmistakable twinkle in his eye) "or jam my hands in my pockets, you know you better run."
"That'll be it then, hey?" I tease. "I'll know you've reached your breaking point then?"
"Oh yeah. But never around the animals. No way. 'Got 23 cats at home, and a dog, and a horse, and two parrots, and doves. Them doves is so in love. They're a gift to me. Just a gift to me. 'Got 'em for cheap at the Pisces Pet Emporium."
We talk more about hated humanity and adored critters before I finally interject, "I have to tell you sir, I don't see hate in you. Not a bit of it! I see kindness and humor." The laughter in his eyes never falters. He is having a good deal of fun with his audience.
"No, no, no!" He is not pleased with my assessment. "Just catch me out there on the road with one of these drivers." He makes a sweeping gesture with his arm, discriminating against not one, but multiple cultures in one arcing movement.
I am unimpressed and say, again, that I just don't see it, but he is unwavering in his determination that he is to be feared; a hated and hateful man.
Our conversation is abruptly halted by available tellers and waiting business. We go our separate ways. I finish my own transaction before his is completed and I leave him behind, leaning earnestly toward his teller, with that young man calmly saying, "No problem, sir. Let's see what we can do to work this out."
My mind reels with wondering at the wildly spun scenario that must be playing out in that small space. That teller is in for the most entertaining fifteen minutes of his day.