Every day, I must wait for the bus for about 20 minutes at the bus station. It's the time when I have to change bus lines on the way to my company where I work.
Always, when I saw him come to the bus station, I couldn't help staring at him. It was as if I had known him already for ages although we had never spoken any words to each other.
He never noticed me even though I was always sitting on a bench opposite him, just some steps far away.
He always followed the same routine when he came to the bus station.
He would go to the same bench, sit down, put his briefcase to his side, put a red rose on it and start reading a newspaper.
He rarely looked up while reading, and so I had the opportunity secretly to observe him.
He was handsome, elegantly dressed in a suit, and he wore a hat. There was something in his facial expression that fascinated me. Maybe it was the sadness in his eyes. He wasn't a young man anymore. I guessed him to be about fifty. His temples were grey, and his beard showed some grey highlights.
Sometimes he looked at me without realizing it. It seemed as if he was looking through me into another world. The first few times when he looked at me, I smiled and nodded my head as if greeting him. He never noticed it at all.
He seemed to be far away. I felt quite uncomfortable and blushed and stopped greeting him.
I wondered for whom the rose was and where he was going.
My fantasy was piqued, and I imagined a love story between him and a mysterious lady.
The time went on. Every day, the same routine for three months.
Sitting on the same bench opposite me, he read the newspaper. The briefcase and the rose lay next to him. When he saw the bus coming, he stood up from the bench, threw away the newspaper into the waste paper bin, took the rose and the briefcase and got into the bus.
One day, sitting on the bench, I was waiting for the bus and also for the man's arrival as usual, but the man didn't appear.
I wondered what might have happened to him that he did not come anymore.
Time went by. I couldn't forget him because his sad eyes were still in my mind, as was the image of how his hand had held the red rose. I wanted really to know what had happened to him.
Some weeks later, on a beautiful sunny summer day, I met my best friend downtown.
I was happy meeting her because we hadn't seen each other for a long time.
My friend is a nurse at the hospital in my city. We meet each other very rarely because she works in shifts, and she also lives in another town. She is married to a doctor from the same hospital where she works.
It was her day off. Her husband was on a business trip, and so she had time.
We went to our favorite ice cream shop. We had not been there for ages. I barely remembered the last time. We choose a table outside the ice cream shop, sat down and ordered something when the waiter came.
Many subjects needed talking about, we joked around, and we ate a lot of ice cream.
Suddenly, I saw in the distance a man coming in the direction of the ice cream shop.
I was shocked by his appearance. For a short moment, I wasn't sure whether it was he or not, but when he came closer, I recognized him. He was the man from the bus station.
It was to see that he had lost weight, and his eyes no longer looked as sad as before. I wasn't aware that I stared at him, and fortunately, he also did not notice it.
The man sat down only a table away from us and beckoned to the waiter. Just now I noticed myself intrusively staring at him and turned my head away.
Turning my head around, I saw my friend looking wonderingly at me. "Do you know that man?" she asked me. "No, I don't," I answered. "At least not personally. I always saw him at the bus station when I was waiting for the bus," I continued.
"I wondered where he was going with a rose in his hand. I haven't seen him for weeks, and now I am a little shocked to see how he looks. I had to look twice to recognize him. He has become so thin!".
I avoided speaking too loudly to her because I was afraid of being overheard by him. My friend answered, also whispering.
"I know that man," she said. "And I can tell you where he was going those days when you saw him at the bus station."
I looked surprised at my friend. "You know him?" I asked. "Yes, I do," she replied. "The story is very touching and sad," she continued with a sighing voice.
I asked my friend to tell me what happened to this man.
"Well," she said, "One day, we got a new patient at my department of the hospital. The patient was a woman. When the ambulance brought her, she was unconscious. Her husband, very excited, told us that when he had come home from work in the evening, she lay on the floor in the sitting room of the house. She didn't move anymore, and he was afraid she had died. Immediately, he checked her pulse and noticed, relieved, it was still pulsing. No sooner had he hung up from the emergency call than an ambulance arrived with a doctor. The examination revealed a severe stroke."
My friend paused.
"Oh my God!" I said. "It must have been frightening for him not to have been able to help her."
"Yes," said my friend, "and he repeatedly blamed himself for not having come home earlier. That day, he was looking for a gift for his beloved wife, because the next day was the couple's 25th wedding anniversary."
"Who would have guessed something like that?", I said to my friend.
"You are right," she replied, "that's the same thing we told him, too, several times."
"What happened then?", I asked.
My friend looked at me and continued, " For the first ten days, she remained unconscious. Her husband stayed day and night at her bedside. Sometimes, when I had a night shift, and I was looking after her, I would see him with his head on her bed, sleeping and hold her hand. When he didn't sleep, he would speak to her with a warm, tender voice, and sometimes he would hum a song like a lullaby for children. One day when I had an early shift in the hospital, I came up to the sickroom where the woman was lying. The man's head lay on her bed again; suddenly, she opened her eyes. She looked surprisingly around and looked, first, questioningly at me, before she noticed her husband. Slowly, she took her hand and laid it on his head. I could see how she tried to speak but couldn't. The stroke had paralyzed the region of her brain that was responsible for speaking."
My friend paused again.
"And what happened then?", I asked curiously and impatiently.
"The man awoke, stood up, bent over her with tears in his eyes, and kissed her. ", my friend continued. "Good morning my sweetheart," he said, "finally, you woke up."
"What happened then?" I asked again impatiently.
"I don't know because I left the room, looking for a doctor," said my friend. "When I came back with the doctor, I saw the couple, sitting on the bed and holding each other in the arms.
The doctor told the man to go home and come back the next day. The examinations would take all day, and it wouldn't help her if her husband collapsed.
The man left the hospital. From that day on, he came every morning with a red rose, sat on her bed, stroking her. He read to her something before he went to work. In the afternoon, after work, he would come back to her and only went home when she had fallen asleep."
My friend paused again.
Then she continued, "One day, the doctor asked the man to come to the office. Later, when the man came out of the office, he stopped in the passage to the sick rooms and cried bitterly.
I pitied him. I knew why he cried and what the doctor had told him. They had found a tumor in the woman's brain. The brain tumor had been the trigger for the stroke
"To make a long story short," said my friend with a sigh, "some days later, the doctors wanted to operate and remove the woman's tumor, but one day before the planned surgery she had a stroke again. No one had expected the second stroke because she was under medical supervision. After the second stroke, she couldn't move the left side of her body anymore, was very weak, so that the doctors couldn't operate on the tumor in her brain. Her husband visited her each day of her stay at the hospital, and each morning, he brought her a red rose."
My friend sighed again. "You know? Never in my entire life, have I seen people speak with their eyes as they both did. They must have loved each other very much. She lay in the hospital for three months without getting better. Her husband decided to bring her back home. He quit his job and since that day he has cared for her."
Deeply touched by the story, I looked to the side where the man sat.
I saw him still sitting at the table, the legs stretched out, and his face turned to the sun as if he wanted to absorb new energy. I was surprised to see a smile on his face.
He was still sitting in that position when my friend and I left the ice cream shop.
A few months later, again waiting for the bus at the bus station, I saw that man again. This time he was accompanied by a woman. The man looked much better than he had at that time I had seen him at the ice cream shop. The woman by his side was beautiful. She wore a white-black dress and similarly-colored shoes and handbag. Her skin was as pale as if she had not seen the sun for a long time.
They both waited for the same bus line as the man had taken at that time when he had visited his wife at the hospital. When the bus arrived, he helped her get in. She nodded her head to him gratefully with a smile on her lips.
I followed the bus with my eyes until it turned the next corner.
I couldn't help phoning my friend, the nurse, to ask her if she knew any news about the couple.
I learned from my friend that the woman's health condition had become stable under his care. So it was possible to examine her again. The tumor turned out to be benign, and the doctors could successfully remove it without subsequent complications. The risk of suffering a renewed stroke, the physicians rated as very low. That day when I saw him with his wife at the bus station, the woman had her last follow-up appointment after surgery.
That day was the last day I saw the man. Always, when I wait for the bus at the bus station, he appears in my mind, sitting opposite me on that bench, the briefcase with a red rose on top, next to him.