"Mind if I smoke?" he asks, settling onto the bench beside me. I love the smell of a freshly-lit cigarette and tell him no before considering: I'm extremely pregnant, and the wind is whipping. I'm a little cool, anyway, and it crosses my mind to wait inside, but I want neither to give up my seat nor to come across as rude.
"What are you waiting for?" he asks.
"My husband. And a baby; we're having a baby tomorrow."
He says his mother didn't live long enough to have more than one, that she died when he was six, and when I ask if his dad raised him, he says: "No. They put him in the ground same day as my mother."
"Car accident?" I ask.
"No," he says, but he offers no more, and I realize I don't want to know. He talks about having a daughter (he guesses she's his) whom he hasn't seen since he asked her why she came around only for money, and he talks about having a girlfriend. He's here, in fact, because the girlfriend is in the hospital. "She wants to get married," he says, "but I'm not gonna do that. Too old to have kids: what's the point?"
I shrug. "Maybe it's about her integrity before the Lord," I offer.
He raises an eyebrow. "That is a possibility," he concedes. "She's a church lady."
"Are you a church man?"
"Not anymore," he says. "Got hurt. Gave it up." I start to respond but hesitate. "Go ahead," he encourages. "I want to hear what you have to say."
I feel tested and squirm, a little, on the bench. "I was just going to say: every stitch of peace I have is in the Lord." Everything I haven't said forms that old, familiar lump in my throat, and--when I look up at him--I'm crying.
So is he.
"I know the Father," he says. "I know Him well. He has given me wisdom. I can see the world in a grain of sand."
I consider the purple of his irises, the dark cheeks wet with his tears, the white hair springing from his temples. I believe him. We reach for one another, and strangers (73 and 38, male and female, black and white) collide and embrace on a bench just past the doors of a hospital.
Later, I realize I never smelled the cigarette he smoked beside me, on a windy day, in its entirety.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2, KJV).