You walked along the path, looking straight ahead, and prepared to stop and wait at traffic lights to change colour so that you could cross the street, and proceed to your job. Waitressing wasn’t the job you wanted most in the world, but it made ends meet, and you were determined to work your way up to manager someday. As you raised your hand to push the button at the crossing, you noticed a tall and lanky blonde man in a neatly pressed suit, sitting on an iron bench out of the corner of your eye. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, as he seemed to sit there a lot. Just his usual spot, really, and never had you ever paid much attention to him. You didn’t know what compelled you to look at him properly, but when you did, your heart broke.
Never in your life had you ever seen such a crushed expression on the face of any man in your entire life.
His shoulders were slumped, and his violet-blue eyes were glassy, distant and sad behind a pair of rectangular glasses. His briefcase sat on the other side of him, papers sticking out of it everywhere, as if he had just thrown papers in it and run away from wherever he’d been before.
Your heart really went out to him, for no real reason, other than it looked like his whole life was falling to pieces. Against your better judgement, and every nerve that screamed, ‘stranger danger’, you took a step away from the traffic light, and slowly made your way to the bench.
“Um, excuse me?” You frowned when he didn’t respond, so you lightly stretched out his hand and touched his shoulder, but quickly withdrew it when he flinched. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just wondering… Is everything alright? You look really down.”
The man, whoever he was, stared at you for a long time, and then opened his mouth. His voice was quiet, hushed, and slightly raspy. “You noticed me.”
You frowned. “Of course. You looked really upset, so I just wanted to ask if you were okay.”
The man looked down at his hands and smiled sadly. “No, I’m… Not having a good day.”
At this point, you were torn. You checked the time on your watch, and sat down next to him.
“So, what’s your name?”
The question appeared to take him off guard, and it was some time before he answered you again. “M-Matthew Williams,” He let out a broken laugh. “I haven’t been asked that in years.”
“Did you want to tell me about why you’re not having a good day?” You asked carefully. You knew it was probably odd for a stranger to ask, but you were genuinely concerned.
However, without hesitation, Matthew began to talk.
“I try really hard, you know? At work, and outside of it too,” Matthew pulled a scrunched up tissue from his pocket and blew his nose. “No one ever notices me. No one ever listens to me, and they laugh at everything I have to say. No one takes me seriously. When they do notice me, they brush me off and they never invite me to anything. Even my own brother doesn’t want me around,” He put the tissue back into his pocket. “I’ve decided that… I’ve had enough. No one’s going to miss me if I just… Disappear. They don’t want me around.”
It took you a moment to realise what he meant, and when it did, it was like being shoved down memory lane. “You… Want to…?”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. No one would miss me.”
You shook your head and took his large, pale hand in yours, which seemed to make him flinch again, but you didn’t let go of the appendage. “No, no! Of course they would! I know exactly how you feel, and believe me, it’ll get better.”
“How could you possibly know how I feel? Look at you,” He gestured to you, and his expression was slightly bitter. “I see you smiling all the time on your way to work. How can you know what this feels like?”
“Because I used to be just like you,” Your (e/c) eyes stared right into his, earnest, insistent. “I really did. I was overstressed, undervalued and under-loved. That was how I saw it. I was unhappy. People used to laugh at me, all the time. For the smallest things, teasing me, ignoring me, never taking me seriously. No one ever wanted to do anything with me; they’d say they were overloaded with work, and then I’d see them down the street with other ‘friends’ of ours,” You were slightly uncomfortable, and the memories were unpleasant, but you needed to push through it.
“Eventually, one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I got into my car, and I drove… Right into a tree. I survived, but I was in hospital for a long while. When I got asked why I did it, all I could say was that I couldn’t stand how no one wanted to take me seriously, and that by doing this, they would at least notice what they never had before.”
“But your life seems to be doing well now,” He pointed out.
“Well, while I was in hospital, I had time to think long and hard about what I’d done, and I realised something.”
“What was that?”
“Everything I did, was because I valued everyone’s opinions far too much,” You let a small smile curve the edge of your lips. “So, I quit my job, cancelled the lease on my house, put all my belongings in storage till I got out of hospital, sold my car, and the moment I was discharged, I looked for a new job in another city. I found a new house, and started this job here. I cut off my connections with everyone, and started again. And I couldn’t be happier.”
“So… You think I should do that?”
“That depends on you, Mr. Williams,” You patted his hand. “What works for me might not work for you. I think you need time to yourself, to think as well, before you think that trying to remove yourself from the face of this world completely is a good idea.”
“You don’t even know me!”
“But I would sooner try to help you, than let you make the same mistake as me.”
“Matthew, bro!” A loud voice called from down the path. You turned your head, to see three other blonde men, in neatly pressed suits, running at full-speed down the path.
“Alfred? Francis, Arthur?” Matthew looked genuinely surprised, and stood up to meet them. The eldest in appearance, and the tallest of the trio had wavy blonde hair, the second oldest had the bushiest eyebrows you had ever seen, and the one who had apparently called out for Matthew, looked like he was probably the captain of the football team in his school years.
“Matthieu!” The man with wavy blonde hair cried. “You had me terrified, mon ami! I thought we would never find you!”
“You scared the bloody hell out of us, running out of the meeting like that!” The one with exceptionally bushy eyebrows bopped his fist on Matthew’s head, which looked odd, seeing as Matthew was taller than him.
“Yeah, dude! Uncool! We thought we’d never see you again!”
“You might not have…”
“What?! What do you mean by that?!” The Frenchman shook him by the shoulders. “Do not joke about things like that!”
Mathew smacked his hands off him. “That’s the whole point, Francis! You think everything I say is a joke! I’m serious! I didn’t want to come back! I am sick and tired of being ignored and never taken seriously! You laugh at me like everything I say means nothing at all but I have feelings too, and I am done with you thinking that they mean nothing!”
Matthew’s quiet voice was raising to that of a normal yell. The shock of hearing it caused the other three men to go quiet, before the one with the strong American accent opened his mouth again, this time more quiet than before.
“If that’s how you really felt, you could’ve talked to us, you know. We would’ve listened. We didn’t know that we were making you feel like that.”
“Well you did. I’m not coming back to work.”
“But you need to come back to work! We were just about to go over your plans for expanding the company!”
Matthew raised his head, looking more surprised than before. “My plans…?”
“But of course!” The Frenchman wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “We’ve been talking about effectivity of the brainstorming we’ve been doing, and found that your well-constructed plans were the best bet for increasing profits and success! Mr. Beilschmidt was really happy with the plans, and even talked of giving you a promotion for them before the meeting started!”
“We really don’t want to lose you, Matthew. Not in the company, or as a friend,” The Englishman looked at his watch. “Mr. Beilschmidt won’t be happy if we’re too much longer. Are you coming, Matthew?”
“Oh yeah! And I wanted to know if you were up for coming to the ball game tonight!” The bubbly American slapped him on the back.
Matthew looked astounded, and lifted his hand to rub some tears from his eyes, happy ones, relieved tears. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll come back,” Only then did he notice your place on the bench was now empty, and you were already on the other side of the road. Nervously, he called out as loudly as he could. “H-Hey, wait!”
You blinked, and stopped across the road to look back at him. “Yeah?”
“Th… Thank you, for taking the time out of your day to talk to me! I don’t think I can thank you enough!” Matthew’s face was going redder by the second. It was pretty cute, actually.
You smiled right back and waved. “Anytime! It was my pleasure!” You were stopped when you turned to go again by his voice.
“W-Wait! Er, what’s your name?”
“It’s ________! And I really have to go! I’m going to be late otherwise!”
“O-O-Oh, sorry! B-Bye!”
“See you another time, Matthew!” You waved again as you ran down the street, leaving the man with his friends, his heart fluttering at the sound of his name on your voice.
He hoped it wouldn’t be the last time he saw you. Thanks to you, he’d begun to take back everything he’d said, as he walked beside his good friends on his way back to work with a smile on his face. He knew now that he was way off-track to think like that.
And thanks to you, he could leave it behind him, and start again.