The noise of conversation and the bustle of waiters, waitresses, and busboys almost drowned out the music coming from the radio. The man heard maybe two seconds of it during a lull, but immediately recognized it. He loved when that happened, when a favorite song was such a part of him that he could recognize it in an instant.
In the next booth, he saw a young woman, maybe 24, taLking to her friend. He couldn’t hear the conversation, of course, but then for a moment, he caught the words “so anyway,” and in a flash, from the pitch and rhythm of her speech, knew the full pulse and thread of her life.
He abruptly got up, went over to the booth, tapped the woman gently, and said “tell your boyfriend Roger that you love him. Tell him that his decision to leave behind his study of the classics for business will ruin your relationship, and will be something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.”
The young woman’s eyes widened.
“Tell him that he’ll find all the material possessions that he acquired small consolation for the life he gave up,” he continued. “Tell him that he’ll pick up the red ceramic vase that you made him for his 21st birthday, all those years before, the vase that he saved all that time, and will cry as he contemplates what could have been.”
The woman’s face went pale. The man smiled.
“By doing this,” he said, “you will save him years of meandering through an empty life. True, you will meet him again ten years later and from your conversation, he will become inspired to go back to school and become a classics scholar. And yes, the two of you will be married three years later. But this save you each ten years of lonliness.”
There was silence between them as the sounds of the diner fell away.
“I’ll do that,” the young woman whispered.
The man felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and was face to face with a boy, maybe 13. There was a look on the boy’s face of someone who had heard, in the way the man said the words “ten years of loneliness,” something familiar.
“The woman who you sit across from on the bus, the one you make small talk with every morning,” said the boy. “Tomorrow, work up the courage to invite her to have lunch this Saturday. Trust me.”