The Man in the Bowler Hat 1/16/20

A Short Story by Richard Bleil

He would be easy to overlook if he didn’t seem so out-of-date. He is a diminutive man, impeccably dressed but his style is about a century out of date. His suit coat over a vest, clean shirt with a starched collar and a tie barely peaking out of the top of his vest. His pressed pants with creases down the front of the pants, ending in cuffs over wing tipped impeccably polished shoes holding a small black cane to complete the style. Perhaps the most notable feature of his outfit was the black bowler hat.

Just standing there next to me. I looked at him longer than perhaps I should have. There was just something about his hat. It was just about eye level to me. I’m sure I have seen them in pictures, or maybe the movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person.

“Lovely day,” he said calmly, with a little voice that matched his size.

I realized I was staring and forced myself to look away. “It is,” I replied. “Are you having a good one?”

“Oh, fine, fine,” he replied, pulling his pocket watch out of the pocket of his vest. The gold chain across his vest at belly level and attached to the button in the middle jingled as he looked down and popped open the cover. He looked down at it knowingly, closed it and put it back in his pocket.

The crowd began to grow. “Do you know what happened here?” I asked him.

“He just collapsed,” I heard one of the others in the crowd say.

A woman in a nurse uniform frantically pumped his chest, pausing periodically to breathe into his mouth. She must have been on her lunch break when she came upon him. It was a sunny spring day but a little on the cool side. Despite the small crowd, most people walked past, giving a wide berth to the spectacle and trying their best to avoid “seeing” it. Periodically somebody would take a picture with their phone, and less frequently somebody might ask if there is something they can do to help, but most just walked by.

“I wonder who he is,” I said to myself.

“It makes you think about the life you’ve led,” the man in the bowler hat answered. “If you are ready, at any moment, to answer for your actions in life.”

Funny. I didn’t notice a bible in his hands. I glanced over to see if he was carrying one that I hadn’t noticed. Both of his hands were folded atop the silver head of the black walking cane. I looked back at the man unconscious on the cold cement sidewalk and prepared myself for a sermon. Through the years, I’ve taught myself to hear such sermons without actually listening, a form of defense mechanism to let people speak their mind but not letting it affect me. I braced for the sermon that would never come.

The man on the sidewalk looked somehow familiar to me. In the distance I heard a siren, but with city traffic I figured it would be a bit of time before it could find its way here. I worried about the nurse who seemed to be getting tired, but she pressed on performing to the best of her ability.

“He looks familiar to me,” I said, this time in response to the man in the bowler hat. “Do you know who he is?”

“Oh, yes,” the man replied. “I’ve kept track of him for a very long time.”

“Who was he?” I asked.

The man didn’t answer. I began to ponder his earlier question. “I don’t know if I would be ready,” I replied.

“Oh?” the man asked.

“I tried my best, I guess. But I made some mistakes.”

The man didn’t reply. “I wonder if there really is a final judgment,” I continued.

“There is,” he answered calmly.

I looked at him. His answer was so knowing, absolute and, somehow, cold.

I turned my attention back as the nurse continued to perform CPR on my body. “Is there a chance I will recover?”

The man didn’t even look at me. “I wouldn’t be here if there was,” he answered.

“Then can we go?” I asked.

The man again took out his pocket watch and looked at it. “It’s not time yet.”

“Why not?”

“There’s an order to the universe,” he said. “It’s not time yet.”

We watched the scene on the sidewalk.

“What do you think will happen to me?” I asked

“It’s not for me to say,” he answered.

I looked at him. “You said you’ve been watching me.”

“I have” he replied.

“Do you think I had any hell worthy trespasses?”

“It’s not about that,” he calmly said still looking at the process of CPR. “You have a lot of regrets.”

“Is that bad?” I asked, as we turned and began walking into the void ahead of us.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go through this,” he said. “Regrets usually don’t turn out well.”

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