Aftermath 47, 3169: The Miner

“Hey buddy, got a cigarette?”

I look up and see a middle-aged coal miner, apparently from the mid-twentieth century. He’s wearing worn miner’s coveralls, and is covered with what appears to be coal dust. Not just ground into his clothing, but into his face, except for a couple of clean ovals over his eyes where goggles apparently were. The miner’s lamp on his head fits right in.

The last time I checked, though, Portland has no coal mines. Must be a bum. A colorful one.

I give him a cigarette, then remember that I’d just purchased a whole carton. I fish a fresh pack out of my bag and give that to him as well. We chat and smoke for a while. The miner turns out to be a smart, interesting, and curious person.

A police cruiser crawls slowly past us, and the cop yells out “Hey chief, is this guy bothering you?”

I open my mouth to tell the officer that everything’s fine, when the miner hollers back “No, he’s a friend of mine.”

The cop nods and drives off, leaving me with my presumptuous shame.

-><-

I’m waiting at the same bus stop where I met the miner last week. That incident made quite an impression on me, and I’ve been wondering if I’ll see him again. I stop wondering as I watch him amble toward me. Still a miner, probably the very same clothes he was wearing last week.

“Hey, buddy!” he hollers.

I have a cigarette ready for him, and hand it toward him as I smile. “Hello, chief!”

“No, I don’t need a smoke,” he says, “I have something for you.”

He hands me a new carton of cigarettes. “Thanks for the loan.”

“Thanks, but I don’t need that. Besides, I only gave you one pack.”

“Keep it anyway. It’s not my brand.”

-><-

I’m at my grandmother’s house, telling the story of the miner to her and my mother.

“Oh, the Chief!” grandma says with a look of recognition, “What a coincidence. He’s a very old friend of our family, you know.”

“He is?”

“Yes,” mom adds, “he’s a little nutty, but he has his reasons. He’s a very wealthy man, but chooses to live on the streets. Just got tired of society, I guess.”

Not tired, I think, just too busy building his own.