I didn’t see the 65 year old, short stature man as he approached me. It wasn’t until he politely asked if he could take the seat beside me that I noticed him at all. I slid over to give him some room, and continued trying to solve the crossword I had in my lap. I wasn’t in the mood to engage in idle chit chat with the stranger, but he was quite persistent in his pursuit of conversation. I smiled and tried to listen to what he had to say.
September 18, 2003, 7:30 pm: For most people, the day was winding down. I, on the other hand, worked 3rd shift; so mine had just begun. I was still in my “grumpy morning mood”. I was also dealing with not being able to drive after some insurance compliance issues led to my license being suspended. By car, I could have gotten to work in 10 minutes. Via public transportation, it was an hour and ½ commute. The inconvenience only added to my crankiness. I definitely wasn’t in the best mood as I sat to wait for the county bus to arrive.
The man who wandered up to the bus stop that fall evening was mentally challenged. And, I could tell he’d been drinking. He wasn’t drunk, but his buzz was enough to make him even more chatty. I just wanted to stay in my own little world, so I pretended to be engrossed in my puzzle hoping he’d take the hint and move along. It didn’t work. He was going to talk regardless, so I put the crossword aside tried to seem interested in what he had to say.
He told me that his sister was a bus driver for the county, the “same job as the person coming to get me.” He said that it wouldn’t be her driving my bus, though, because this wasn’t “her road.” That’s really all he had to say; but he was saying it over and over. We both her the distinct sound of the bus getting close, so he stood, got his bearings, and started to wobble away. He paused to give me one piece of advice before he departed. He warned me to be careful out at night by myself because “there are a lot of crazy people around here.” I assured him I would as he slowly walked away. I boarded my bus, already putting the odd little man out of my head; but he wouldn’t stay out of my thoughts for long.
I would’ve never imagined that, within 24 hours, I would be replaying those few minutes over and over in my head, scrutinizing my every word and action. I wasn’t rude; but, I could have been so much nicer. I engaged in conversation, yes, but it wasn’t out of compassion. It was because he left me little choice. I should have put my petty problems aside and given him a little of the attention he craved. All I can hope is that he didn’t recognize my insincerity. I’d like to think that he left our short meeting believing his advice was both helpful and appreciated. And, I wish, more than anything, that I did or said something which gave this gentle man a feeling of warm and acceptance.
About an hour into my shift, a worried friend called to make sure I was at work and okay. Something very serious was going at the close to my apartment, more police than she’d ever seen in one location were focused on the intersection close by the stop where I waited each night for the bus. Throughout the night, I got bits and pieces of the story from different customers who knew the area where I, and also several of my coworkers, lived. A dead body had been found somewhere on that corner, no details of who it was or what happened could be confirmed. By the time I got off the next morning, all the employees who lived where I did had been accounted for and found safe. Somewhat relieved, I went home to get some sleep.
It was one of the top stories on the news that evening. “Police have no leads in the murder of a man whose body was found shortly after 8:00 pm behind an abandoned gas station on Austell Road. The victim has been identified as..” The shock hit me like a punch in the gut, as I looked up and saw the face of the man I’d met the night before. Harold Blackstock, 65, died of blunt force trauma. His body stuffed in a hollow wall on the back of the long empty building. Things kind of became a blur at that point as I tried to process the information I’d just learned.
Shortly after 8:00 pm. Scheduled to arrive at 7:40, my bus usually ran a few minutes late. No more than 30 minutes could have passed between his”Be careful” farewell and the time his bludgeoned, almost unrecognizable body was found about 100 or so yards away. It is highly probable that, after our conversation, the next person he crossed paths with was his killer. I very well may have been the last (somewhat) friendly person he ever talked to before he met his demise. As I sat on the bus, dreading the shift ahead, he was probably fighting for and losing his life.
Chance encounters with random people we don’t know happen every day. The person you stood in line behind at a store, a server at the restaurant, the person working at your bank, etc. Most of the time these events remain what they were, a minor event. Insignificant. Irrelevant. Forgettable. But, as I learned the hard way, this is not always the case. What may seem unimportant at the time could potentially have a major impact on your or someone else’s life.
No two people can share the exact life story. When people cross our path, we can’t know where they’ve been, where they are now, or where they may soon be. If we strive to treat each other with kindness, respect, and decency each and every day, we won’t have to look back and wish we’d been a better person when we didn’t know we needed to be.
After his death, I learned a little more about Harold Blackstock’s life. He’d lived in the area for years. A mental disability prevented him from driving or performing at a regular job. So, he would visit different businesses, doing whatever chore he could in exchange for a beer or maybe a snack. To the people who knew he best, he was considered a gentle soul and somewhat of a character. There was a time when he would ride his lawnmower to church every Sunday.
13 years later, and, the murder of Harold Blackstock remains unsolved.