“Put ‘er there, pal,” he says, sounding as though he’s stepped out of an O. Henry story.
I put my hand in his with some hesitation. Could it be that I was thinking more about the pandemic than he was? I take the travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer out of my pocket, douse myself, jam the bottle back in my pocket.
Smirking, he watches me all the while, so amused, the corners of his mouth turned up a bit. For this guy, that’s probably a broad smile.
“You know,” I say, trying to introduce some seriousness to the situation, “for that mask to work, people need to cover their noses as well, not just their mouths.”
He laughs, accommodates me. “It’s been a while, buddy. Good to see you again. Wondered about you. You were undoubtedly avoiding me.”
“There’s a pandemic going on. I’ve been busy with all kinds of stuff. And you’ve been busy, too. Obviously.”
He laughs and throws back his head. “You always were dramatic, pal. Dramatic and sarcastic.”
I give him one of my best looks of disdain, but my mask undoubtedly hides its full effect.
“And just because we’re in this pandemic, doesn’t mean you can’t get on the phone, or email me, or at least text me.”
“Yeah, well, whatever. You were on my mind nonetheless, I assure you. There’s been a lot to deal with while you’ve been off roving the world.”
“Best time ever to travel for me,” he says. “No waiting around. I’m here, there, everywhere. People are getting healthier now, slows me down some.”
“So why fly here now?” I ask.
“I had to see you.”
I look askance at him. What does he want? I have a bad feeling growing.
“It’s only a layover, buddy. Can’t stand around talking.”
I say, “Don’t ask me why, but when I got your message, I agreed to meet you again, say hello. If you were in such a rush, why even get in touch with me?”
He scratches his head with a bony finger. “You have an advanced degree, right?” He shakes his head. “Come on, we gotta get you a ticket to ride.”
“What? For me? Are you kidding? I’m not going anywhere.”
He looks serious, drops his mask. “The last time I came to visit you, I asked you if you wanted to go with me then. It wasn’t too bad for you that time. Not bad like it is now. This time you have to go.”
“You’re not joking, are you.”
He pulls his mask back up. “We better go get you a ticket, check you in.”
“But I can’t go just like that. I have to say goodbye to my relatives, my friends.”
“Sorry.” He shakes his head. “Uh uh.” He’s dead serious now. “Let’s go.”
He turns and heads back into the terminal, gestures for me to follow. I’m kind of amazed, really, that it isn’t only time that flies. All those miles I piled up, haven’t used because I haven’t taken any trips in the past two years. Now I wish I had. I mean, why not? If I’d known it would happen like this anyway. Dammit. I wish I’d done a lot of things.