Pray

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The bus rocks beneath my seat, braking and accelerating with the ebb and flow of the city traffic. I stare at the phone in my hand, the call long ended though the words still echo in my mind. I replay them in my head, over and over, trying to make sense of their… impossibility. Adrenaline courses through my veins, a heady mix stronger than any cocktail Bob the Bartender could come up with. This must be what shock feels like. All my years in med school and I never knew.

“I will pray for you.”

The words pull me from the trance I didn’t even know I was in. I glance forward, shaking the cobwebs from my head as I try to remember if that seat was empty before. The man that sits before me now is hobbled with age, hunched forward as though intent on my words and thoughts though more probable from the arthritis that obviously riddles his joints and back. He is a whisper of a man, an echo of the glory of youth.

“What?”

The man says nothing, but his eyes stare back with sharp intensity. They seem to read my soul and take my measure. I wonder if he finds me worthy. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this thought. Who is he to judge me? Who is this man who thinks he can listen to my call and have the audacity to think he could comfort me? I don’t need comfort! How could I ever be comfortable again?

“I will pray for you.”

Emotions flood through me, faster and faster, until anger wins out. It blazes hotter than the setting sun outside the filmy windows until it fades. I am too tired to hold it. It is pointless. The call, still sitting in the back of my mind, comes forth as I ignore the man before me. I lay out my options as plan after plan flit through my mind, turning away each as quickly as the one before. Nothing will work. Nothing can fix this. Not even this man’s God.

“I will pray for you.”

The words hang heavy in the air. Heavier than the heart beating in my chest. Each feels like a struggle and I wonder how long they will last. The beats become a clock, ticking away the remaining life. Tick… There’s one less breath I will ever breathe. Tick… One moment closer to death. How many more are left? I feel the warmth of a hand resting on my shoulder as the first tear falls. How could this happen? Why? The warmth of the hand grows as the man pulls me in an embrace.

“I will pray for you.”

The whispered words weed their way into my mind as the sobs continue to wrack my body. They become a song, a chant beating through my brain in time with the gentle sway of the bus. The sobs lessen, my fingers release their death grip from my phone. At last, I look up, released from my grief, to thank this man, this stranger whose simple words still course through my brain.

But, the seat is empty.

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