He must of have been a problem solver at his day job. He stood in a coach’s stance, his Prada glasses pinched tight against a red nose pointed up at me. To avoid any doubt, that made him shorter than average. His head bounced in anticipation as we lined up for coffee, the first break meant caffeine and bullshit, two cups of each. He was easily the most vocal in the group, intelligent but wary, and he stood right next to me. His cattle-brown belt was obviously too big, the slack was tucked under a deep wrinkle that exposed a much lighter flesh. I reckoned he lost some serious weight somewhere along the way.
“Good to be out of the office, ’tisn’t,” he said. Or had he asked? His Irish accent picked up in cadence with each sip. Two sugars and a wee dab of milk.
“Yes it is. Always is.” We set our coffees down on a round table – the kind you’d only find in a hotel that hosted meetings between complete strangers.
“You travel in your role?”
“I do indeed.” My head started to bounce in sync with his, and I may have noticed an Irish flare in the delivery of my words. The man had contagiousness. I liked it. Behind the thick lenses, the creases in his eyes had a kindness that had initially escaped me.
“Been to Calcutta?” he asked. The conference was not about cutting to the chase, but I went with it.
I nodded from left to right and back again. He dug his chin into his chest and pushed his brows up towards the top of his head. So I nodded again.
“Nuddin’ worse than looking out your hotel window at a shantytown across the street is there? YouknowhatImean do you?”
“Enjoy the conference, mate,” he said. He set his empty cup down on the table and returned to our meeting room.
I drank my coffee quickly, and poured another. I skipped out on the croissants, my appetite lost somewhere within the folds of the conversation I just had. The instructor popped his head out of the conference room and hinted at the second hand. I thought about the places I’d been. I hadn’t been to Calcutta, but I’d been there before. We were strangers, the Irish man and I, stuck between the same four walls and somehow perfectly aligned. The instructor jumped into the next module, and I tucked into my notepad to write this: we’d been to hotel rooms across from different shantytowns and there’s nuddin’ worse than sharing a problem like that.