Matt and I are chain smoking cigarettes on the walk back from the Museum of Modern Art. It’s this game we play to see who finishes their pack first. Matt’s a good friend of mine. He’s always a little cryptic but manages to get his point across in the end. He had an art history assignment, so we took it upon ourselves to make a day of it in New York City.
I see a middle-aged man with a large Band-Aid over his left eyebrow studying me from the corner of the street. He is slightly balding, but his head is shaved to compensate.
“Could I bum a cigarette?” he asks.
Matt gets his pack out first. I think our interaction is over until the man grabs me by the wrist, his hand cold, the fingers scabbed and rough.
“You can’t leave yet,” he says. “I need to tell you about your life.”
“That’s very nice of you, but I don’t want to miss my train,” I say and try to pull away.
“I need to repay you for your charitable act. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
I look at Matt. “Give it a try,” he says. “There’s nothing to lose.”
I give in and we stand on the edge of the sidewalk. The man starts rattling off vague details: “Your birthday is around the end of the summer, your parents are no longer together, and you’re not really close to either of them, you’re the fourth-born child….”
I cut him off. “I’m the third-born child, but thank you for talking to me.”
“You’re wrong,” he insists. “You shouldn’t live in Maine. Stay close to the Connecticut and the New York area; it’s good for you. You’re in love with two people. They’re like night and day. Stick with the new one and forget the old. Your friend here is not one of those people and a relationship will never work.”
A young boy pulls at the man’s pant leg.
“Can we go home now?” he asks.
The man scribbles on a piece of paper and hands it to me. “I have an office and you should call me so we can continue our conversation. I don’t take money. I only accept charitable offers and you already gave me this cigarette.”
He and the boy walk away.
I call my mother and ask, “Was I the fourth-born child?”
“Yeah, I had a miscarriage before you were born,” she says.
It’s a solemn walk back to the train station. Matt looks depressed. “It’s all bullshit, you know” he says, “They change what they say based on how you react to them.”
We finish the rest of the walk in silence.