The Mirror

The Mirror

While staring at myself in the wide plate glass window of Jergens Clothier, a man walking by stopped to sneer at me. By the time I became aware of the sneer and turned to confront him, he was walking away. I thought about going after him but for what purpose? Since I believed his sneer to be impudent, it would only result in an altercation. I turned back to the plate glass window, but my pensive mood had been shattered.

Reconsidering, I turned away from the plate glass window and gave chase to the sneering man. Because his face had been so contorted, I wouldn’t be able to recognize him if I stood face-to-face with him. But I did notice that he was wearing a long, black, wool coat, similar to the one I was wearing. A half-block away, a man of similar size and stature to the man I saw in the window, wearing a coat similar to the coat I was wearing, walked steadily away from me. I quickened my pace to get closer.

As I gained on him, I asked myself what I intended to do when I caught up to him. My actions weren’t well conceived. I was reacting to what I took as an affront. But maybe his sneer had been playful and lighthearted, not meant as an offense at all. What did I know about this stranger?

My curiosity drove me onward. He walked at a leisurely but steady pace, and I had no problem keeping up with him. When he came to the end of the block and stopped for the Don’t Walk light, I slowed my pace, intending to time my arrival at the intersection with the changing of the light. I wanted to stay close to him but not overtake him.

When the light changed, he proceeded across the intersection and down the sidewalk. As we got closer to downtown, the sidewalks were crowded. I glanced down at my watch. It was almost noon, so the pedestrian traffic would soon get even more congested. Having to step around oncoming pedestrians slowed me down, but the stranger was in no hurry, so I had no difficulty keeping pace with him.

Precisely at noon, he stopped in front of a small diner and stepped inside. As I approached the diner, I looked around, trying to get my bearings. I lived and worked downtown, so I was familiar with its streets and shops and restaurants, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall ever seeing this diner before. I hesitated, but overcome by curiosity I stepped inside the small diner.

The place was crowded, which was fortunate since I didn’t want the stranger to know what I was up to. He had taken a seat at the counter, which faced a long mirror. I squeezed past him and took a seat at the other end of the counter. From my seat at the counter, glancing into the long mirror, I was able to watch him.

I took a menu from a holder on the counter and looked it over, glancing up from time to time to check on the stranger. Even though I couldn’t see his face clearly, he looked familiar to me. I looked down at the menu, then back up to check on the stranger. I repeated this procedure for several minutes until I glanced up to check on the stranger, and the counterman was standing across the counter from me. He hadn’t said a word or made the slightest noise to warn me of his presence. Embarrassed, I looked back at the menu, the words a blur on the page. Thoughts raced through my mind. The counterman was on to me. But how could he know what I was up to? Besides, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was sitting here, just like all the other diners. But I wasn’t like the other diners. I was up to something.

I looked up from the menu and asked the counterman if he had a special. Sure, he said. We got a special every day. I continued to stare at him, expecting him to elaborate. He didn’t say a word. We stared at each other in silence. I cocked my head, hoping that that would arouse a response. My actions were met with a cold stare. Yes, okay, I’ll take the special, I said, not caring what it was. I just needed to be out from under his cold stare.

When the counterman had left, I quickly looked in the mirror to check on the stranger. He was bent over a cup of soup, totally unaware of my presence. I was suddenly overcome by the stifling heat inside the diner and looked around for a coat rack. Looking up and down the counter, I noticed that it was filled with men, and not one of them had bothered to take off his coat. I glanced into the mirror. The stranger was still hunched over his bowl of soup, unbothered by the oppressiveness inside the diner.

Even though there were no available seats at the counter, a line of men crowded into the small entryway. What could they possibly see in this cramped, dismal hole? Even if the special turned out to be palatable, I had lost my appetite. My only desire was to get out of here as soon as possible. I glanced into the mirror, but he was gone. I quickly scanned the crowded room. He wasn’t there. Fumbling for my wallet, I slapped a five-dollar bill on the counter and ran outside.

I looked up and down the crowded sidewalk but didn’t spot him. What should I do? Go back in the direction from which I’d come? Or go in the opposite direction? Making an effort to think logically, my mind instead whirred like an empty blender. With no sound reason for my choice, I started back down the sidewalk in the same direction from which I’d come earlier. Since there seemed to be no reason behind any of my actions, everything I chose to do seemed illogical. The fact that I was even following this stranger made no sense. Compelled only by my curiosity, I pushed on.

The crowded sidewalk was challenging, but I showed special skill in my ability to maneuver in and out of the oncoming pedestrians. After several blocks and still no sign of the stranger, I was about to give up when straight ahead, I spotted a man in a long wool coat. With his recognizable gait, I knew right away that I had overtaken the stranger. Now, I told myself, it was all about strategy. The crowded sidewalk made it possible to lurk behind without being noticed, but I needed to prepare myself for his next move. He must have a destination in mind, and I didn’t want to be caught off guard again as I was when he had ducked into that dingy diner. I shuddered at the thought of the place, still able to smell the grime embedded in the fibers of my wool coat.

As I followed at a safe distance, I began to wonder about this stranger. Who was he? What did he do for a living? Maybe, much as myself, he did nothing for a living. I had been fortunate to have been born into a rich family and therefore was carefree when it came to matters of finance. By his carefree attitude and careless actions, I supposed that he too was without financial worry.

Then it occurred to me that if I weren’t financially independent, I wouldn’t be following this stranger in the first place. I would have to be someplace at a certain time because I would have to make a living. Make a living? What a peculiar phrase. We live, and then we die. How is it that we have to make a living in between?

Caught up in my thoughts, I almost ran into my quarry, who had stopped in front of Jergens Clothier. At the last moment, I averted a collision by quickly sidestepping the stranger and proceeding down the sidewalk, looking back over my shoulder. Had his sudden stop been a ruse? Was he on to me? I slowed to a saunter, glancing at storefronts as I passed. I stopped in front of Madame LaBelles, a shop featuring expensive lingerie, and looked back. He was still standing in front of Jergens, intently staring into the wide plate glass window. I turned back to stare at my reflection in the plate glass window of Madame LaBelles, mesmerized by my reflection. After a minute, I once again turned my attention to the stranger, who was still standing in front of the wide plate glass window of Jergens Clothier, absorbed in his reflection.

Overcome with curiosity, I moved cautiously back in his direction. As I passed Jergens Clothier, I glanced at my reflection in the wide plate glass window. I stopped in my tracks, stunned by the realization that he was gone. The stranger. What had become of the stranger? Only my reflection appeared in the glass window. The shock on my face was evident. Staring back at me was a sneering, sarcastic smile. Turning away, I scanned up and down the street but saw only the swarm of nameless, faceless people walking away from me.







Leave a Reply