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Free Range: Meeting Michael

By Felicia Morgan

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It was lunchtime, at least according to my rumbling gut, though the clock only read 10:00 a.m. The Beast and I had already put down 400 miles and we were both ready for a break so I filled the tank and rolled over to check the tire pressure before dragging out the snacks I’d snagged from the breakfast room at the hotel earlier. The Beast’s hot pipes sat pinging as they cooled in the brisk morning air.

The station attendant had just finished cleaning the bathroom and left the door propped open to air the place out as he returned to his indoor duties when a bedraggled guy on a bicycle made a beeline for the facilities. Most places keep their restrooms locked these days, refusing admission to anyone but customers, so for a street guy to have free access to hot water and a toilet was akin to a sparrow finding a bird bath The guy gleefully raced into the restroom and took to sprucing himself up. Loudly. He didn’t even close the door. I could hear him happily washing up and found myself chuckling at the mess the attendant would surely find when he returned to close the place up. Eventually he emerged, pushed his bicycle over and gave me a nod. He was tall and lean with weathered skin and long wet hair that framed his face with silver. He had a pronounced limp and I noticed the sole of his hiking boot was falling off, but several wraps of worn duct tape held the toe in place. I dug around for the tube of superglue stashed in the saddlebag.

“Hey, I’ve got some stuff that might help you with your shoe, if you’d like,” I offered, laying a roll of duct tape and unopened tube of glue on the top of my pack so he could help himself. He eyed me suspiciously but nodded as he put his bicycle on its stand and sat down to pull off his tattered boot.

“You really think that’ll work?” he asked as he tossed it to me without moving from his spot. I reached over to pick the boot up and suddenly it hit me: a green stench from hell. The boot smelled like rancid, rotted feet and I instantly flung it back at him in an involuntary response and shrieked, jumping up as if I’d been bitten by a snake.

“Dude! You freaking reek! Man, I though my grandson had the stinkiest feet on the planet but you’ve got him beat by a country mile! Seriously, you’ve got like, jungle rot or something! Holy shit!” Suddenly I realized I’d hurt his feelings.

“Wow. You know, you’re kinda mean,” he sniffed as he indignantly flung his wet hair over his shoulder and reached for the offending footwear. “I didn’t ask you to help me. I didn’t even talk to you at all. Know what? You’re mean. You’re just a mean, mean woman.” He was struggling to get his holey sock straightened out so he could put his boot back on and as he tugged, the sock tore off in his hand, leaving just a small portion with his toe poking through. His eyes got huge and he threw the putrid sock at me in frustration. I dodged the smelly thing and immediately started cracking up. His face turned red and for a second I thought he might cry, then he started laughing, too.

Pulling the bandana up over my face to mask the smell, I kicked the boot over and tossed him the tube of glue. As he worked to get it open, I reached into my bag and brought out foot powder followed by a clean pair of socks. Flinging those his direction, chased by the roll of tape, I held the bandana tight over my nose. It didn’t seem to matter, the smell brought tears to my eyes and I started gagging, which made him laugh.

“I just washed my feet, I really did,” he shook his head as he worked the glue onto the canvass. I took several steps back and continued to tease him, suggesting he burn both the boots and the rotting socks. “Maybe next time you should use soap, Dude,” I chided him. He pointed out that I could use a lesson in sensitivity. We continued to harass each other until he got his boots repaired and dusted with powder, then returned to wash his feet in the bathroom sink. I gifted him everything I’d loaned, since I told him I didn’t want to catch whatever it was that made him stink so bad, but I let him hug me tight before my new friend peddled off in shiny duct taped boots and clean purple striped socks.

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