The Next Act

Sarah was sitting on a bench in the park, enjoying her lunch. She took a bite from her sandwich, looked around and saw Mike – a middle-aged man with dirty unkempt hair, long beard and clothes that looked like they had not been washed in years. Mike took a seat at the opposite end of the bench on which Sarah was sitting. Sarah turned her head for a slightly better look and saw Mike staring at her.

Mike: “Hi.”

Sarah: “Hello.”

Mike: “What are you doing here?”

Sarah: “Having lunch.”

Mike: “All alone?”

Sarah: “Err yeah.”

Sarah shifted a little. Mike smiled and reached slowly into his jacket pocket. Sarah watched his movement, terrified, and shifted further towards the edge of the bench. With one swift movement Mike removed what looked like a newspaper from his pocket and unfolded it, looking unperturbed by Sarah’s reaction.

They sat in silence as Mike read the newspaper and Sarah finished her sandwich. A few minutes later, Mike folded the newspaper and kept it aside.

Mike: “Thanks for not running away.”

Sarah: “Thanks for not killing me.”

Mike: “Huh?”

Sarah: “Nothing, nothing.  What makes you think I’d run away?”

Mike: “Everybody does. Some do as soon as they see me and some after I sit down.”

Sarah: “Without any reason?”

Mike: “Dirty on the outside must mean dirty on the inside, right?”

Sarah: “I don’t think so.”

Mike smiled.

Sarah: “I think I understand what you mean.  Sometimes after work I head for a drink. Since I am normally in work attire, I can’t help but feel that people there avoid me because of that. I get the feeling that people see me as a snob, like I am too good for them or something.”

Mike: “Look at the bright side. At least you can get into those places.”

Sarah: “Now that I think about it, I guess it’s not that bad.”

Mike: “It’s a trade off. You can get into those places, but you don’t meet anybody. I can’t get into those places and I meet all kinds of people on the streets.”

Sarah nods, clearly impressed by Mike’s statement.

Sarah: “Can I ask you something?”

Mike: “You want to know how I ended up like this?”

Sarah: “You seem like a pretty smart man. You surely must have had something at some point.”

Mike: “I was an actor.”

Sarah: “Wow, really?”

Mike: “Don’t  believe me? I’ll show you.”

Mike stood up and shut his eyes. Sarah watched him and then looked around to see if anyone else was in the area.

Mike opened his eyes, fury in them.

Mike: “You think I am dirt, don’t you?”

Sarah looked around, completely taken by surprise.

Sarah: “I..I –”

Mike: “I refuse! I am a respectable man! And all your fancy clothes and lunchtimes in the park are not going to change that!”

Mike stared her down as she tried to gather her things.

Sarah: “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought I’d ask. I..I – I am sorry.”

Mike bursted out laughing. Again, Sarah was completely taken by surprise.

Sarah: “What’s so funny?”

Mike: “Guess I still got it.”

Mike sat back down, smiling brightly.

Sarah: “You.. you were acting?”

Mike: “Of course! You didn’t think I was really mad at you, did you?”

Sarah: “A little.”

Mike laughed heartily and even Sarah joined him.

Sarah: “Ok, you got me.”

Mike: “This is going to give me a good laugh for months.”

Sarah: “I see you can act. So, what happened?”

Mike: “Fell into a bottle and never came up for air. People didn’t like the fact that I showed up late and sometimes drunk for rehearsals.”

Sarah: “I am sorry.”

Mike:  “It’s not your fault! To be honest, it’s not all that bad. Now I do what I want, when I want. No one to question me and no one to answer to. It’s a much peaceful life. I have a lot of time to think here. Don’t have to worry about when I have to be back from my lunch break.”

Sarah looked at her watched and realized it was getting late.

Sarah: “Oh, I totally lost track of time.”

Mike: “That big clock across the street won’t let me. I noticed it was almost one.”

Both shared a smile.

Sarah: “Thanks.”

Sarah gathered her things and got up. She reached into her purse, took out a few bills and held them out to Mike.

Sarah: “I’d like you to have these.”

Mike waved them away.

Mike: “Please, keep your money. I don’t need it.”

Sarah: “I insist.”

Mike: “Put it away. I’ll be doing the giving here.”

Sarah looked confused. Mike reached into his jacket,  took out two slips of paper and handed one to Sarah.

Sarah: “What’s this?”

Mike: “Ticket to the new play down at the theater.”

Sarah: “How did you get them?”

Mike: “Let’s just say I am good friends with the lead actor.”

Sarah: “What’s it about?”

Mike: “It’s about an actor who becomes homeless after falling into a bottle and never coming up for air.”

Sarah stood speechless as she put two and two together.

Mike: “The lead actor is supposed to be top-notch. Really gets into his roles. Hope you can make it.”

Mike turned to leave, Sarah called out behind him.

Sarah: “It’s you!”

Mike turned, a sly grin on his face.

Sarah: “Why the whole act? Why go through the trouble of convincing me you’re homeless when you’re not?”

Mike: “You’d be surprised how quickly you get to know somebody when you’re dressed like this. Will I see you tonight?”

Sarah: “You tell me. You’re the one that knows me so well.”

Sarah smiled.

Mike: “I’ll see you.”

Sarah: “Count on it.”

Mike smiled and headed off. Sarah just stood there and marvelled over the tickets in her hand.

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