Ten Seconds

The rain had started to pour down at the break of dawn, with thick clouds obscuring the sunlight. James Smith had been awake for one hour and a half when he took his umbrella and exited his house, after checking all doors and windows. Following his daily routine, at eight thirty A.M. James Smith was walking to his job at the accounting firm, only a few blocks away. He was moving through the same streets for twenty-five years, since he was hired. Smith had barely earned his accounting degree from the local college, when he got the opportunity to work in his hometown. The convenience suited him. Smith had always preferred living in his nice, comfortable house owned by his family since the fifties. Smith’s parents were dead, and he lived alone now, but this predicament suited him equally.

The raindrops were falling heavy on the sidewalk. The homeless man on the corner of Second and Third Street kept pulling a large garbage bag over him, hoping in vain that it might protect him from the rain. James Smith ignored him, as he did every day. Smith passed the candy shop and the general store on Third. He crossed the street, walking near the shoe store on Fourth, owned by an old acquaintance of his father’s. Smith paid no attention to them. His mind was on the possible promotion he was waiting for this week. His rival was Phillip Johnson, a younger accountant, who came from the city. Smith had been working hard for this promotion. But so did Johnson. By now, the rain had become lighter, with a few droplets here and there.

Smith was a few yards away from his destination, when this woman passed in front of him. The same woman who had been passing in front of him for quite a number of years, on his way to work. Ordinarily, Smith avoided looking at her, as he did with anyone on the street. This time, however, something captured his attention. A few raindrops were caught in the woman’s raven hair, unmelted, reflecting the sun’s brightness emerging from the dissipating clouds. For the first time, Jim looked at her. The woman had a small turned-up nose with freckles on each side. Her eyes were light green, almost blue. Her eyebrows were thin as if drawn with a sharp pencil. She had full lips, which the magenta lipstick highlighted even more. There was a minuscule beauty mark on the left corner of her upper lip. Her face was roundish and sparkled in the sun like a dewed flower in the morning. The woman coughed with a strong voice. She must have felt her head wet, because she shook it gently. The dewdrops jumped off her hair and evaporated into the morning air. The bursting bright light made her squint. Her nose wrinkled. The woman passed Jim by, ignoring him. Her musky perfume lingered on for a few seconds, leaving a strange earthy undertaste in the back of Jim’s mouth. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining in all its brilliance.

Smith arrived at his office and continued to do his job, as always. At noon he went to the restaurant on Fourth Street, ordering a medium-rare steak with baked potatoes on the side. Afterwards, he went back and continued his work, as he had much to do and did not want to fall behind. The Brickman contract needed attention in regards to its inventory valuation. The Hoffman contract was in the red, while the Linfield contract was in the black. Not to forget Mr. Guzman, who requested more information about his retained earnings. The day went by as expected. At five o’clock, when everyone was ready to go home, Mr. Mark Lewis, the boss, made an announcement. Phillip Johnson was promoted to head of the office.

James Smith walked home on the same streets he walked on his way to work. He never changed his route. He’d never seen the reason to. Smith felt tired and a bit disappointed, but not too much. At seven thirty P.M., nearly twelve hours after eating his breakfast, Smith had his dinner while watching a western on TV. He’d always loved westerns. Smith washed the enamel plates, one by one. He dried them with a clean cloth, and put them in the kitchen cabinet on the wall, where they belonged. Smith went to bed after watching “The Tonight Show,” as he did since he was a child. James Smith turned off his old Tiffany lamp and closed his eyes. Before falling asleep, nearly dreaming, Jim contemplated, uncharacteristically, tomorrow’s encounter with the woman.

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