Metal Folding Chair

It was reassuring that the restroom was the same as it had been all those years ago when he was a student.

“Well, maybe the toilets have been changed out,” he smile, “but at least the water still rotates left-to-right when flushed.

It was one of only two restrooms – and still labeled ‘boys,’ the other ‘girls’ — in ‘A’ hall. Back in the day they were never open for general use during regular school days, but always open for a special event.

He washed his hands in the fountain-style sink, while looking up at himself in the mirror. He looked  tired, sallow and pale.

“Nerves,” he thought, as he took a deep breath to relieve the butterflies in his stomach and the tightness in his chest.

He reached inside his dress jacket and into the left-hand interior pocket for his speech. He’d written it before leaving his motel room.

They were only to be used if he were asked to say a few words, because tonight, he was being inducted into his Alma mater’s Hall of Fame. He slipped them back into his pocket, turned on the cold water, splashed his hot, sweaty face, pulled a couple of paper towels from the dispenser and dried himself.

“Ah, good, there you are,” said the youthful and current principal of the school.

He pointed down the end of ‘B’ hall and started walking that direction.  Dutifully, the former student followed.

He was surprised to see where the buses picked up and dropped off students had not changed. Nor had the small snack stand changed, the one that stood by the doors next to the weight room.

“Stand here,” the principle stated, “And when you here your name, walk through those doors into the gym. The stage will be on your left. And congratulations.”

He gulped another breath and felt the pain in his chest slip away and his sickly stomach settle. He quickly adjusted his tie and brushed at his jacket and pant leg, sweeping away lint that really wasn’t there.

Then he heard some speaking and the gathered crowd begin clapping. At his name, he pushed on the handle and swung the door open, stepping into the basketball gym, turned auditorium for the evening.

Smiling and waving, he half-jogged, half-walked across the parquet flooring and up the two-steps to the raised platform. A quick glance showed a metal folding chair next to a wooden speakers stand.

While he noted these, he returned his focus to the crowd that cheered and clapped as he came on stage. All smiles, he waved and pointed at people, though he couldn’t really see their faces, before he sat down in the folding chair.

All too soon the crowd grew quiet. And since there was no speaker at the podium, he took the time to look around at the faces that sat, not only before him in individual seats, but also the couple of hundred that sat in the wooden bleachers on either side of the gym.

Over the heads of those that sat in the folding chairs, much like his, save for the slight padding they had and he didn’t, he noted the video camera. Its tiny red light flashed, indicating that it was recording the scene before it.

He felt a wave of panic engulf his being. He felt for the speech in his pocket and pulled out a piece of folded paper towel, the same kind he’d used a few minutes ago in the restroom.

“Did I put the towels in my pocket and wipe my hands on my speech?” he asked himself, wanting to chuckle, but couldn’t.

Then he began to study the people in the crowd. Much to his surprise, both of his parents sat directly in front of him, his step-dad, his mother’s second husband, to her left and a baby in her lap. He also saw his brother and sister.

Next to them were his grandparents, both sets and their second spouses. He was surprised to see his Aunts and Uncles as well as his in-laws. He looked beyond them; at the neighbors, teachers, employers, coworkers, friends and girlfriends.

And as he recognized each face, a brief video rapidly filled his head of interactions, good and bad, he’d had with that person. He tried to shake it off, but he knew they were almost all here, almost all the people he knew, almost all the people he’d been close to at one time. Missing were his wife, their son and his family and his sister and her family.

Then there came a faint sound. It was like that of a wind chime, the rustle of leaves on a tree as the wind pushed through them, the bark of a dog, the crunch of gravel under foot, the neigh and snicker of a horse, the squeal of a tire, the bray of a mule, the chug of a farm tractor, clucking chickens, a babbling stream, a baby crying, laughter, a long sigh, a cat meowing and purr, paper shuffling, rain on a roof, and distant thunder.

Much to his amazement, it all worked well together like a perfect melody.

It was quickly followed by the delightful odor of fresh baked bread, mowed grass, cinnamon, paint, chocolate chip cookies, an old dusty book, horse and cow manure, baled hay, new leather, gasoline, peppermint, his wife’s perfume, puppy-dog’s breathe, garlic, burnt toast, rain, brewing coffee, salt air, pine trees, apple pie, crazy glue, and wet-dog. Again, it all fit together; a wonderful brocade of aroma.

Then the auditorium echoed with the repetitive shuffle of seated people coming to their feet. He stood too, though he wasn’t sure why he was doing it, other than perhaps he believed it was expected.

And while everyone looked at the already open double-doors, waiting for someone or something to make a grand entrance, he looked back and down at the chair he’d been sitting in. Across the back of it, stenciled in red letters, he read, ‘Bema.’


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