A Conversation With A Stranger

I was looking out of the second-floor window of the math and science building of my university campus. I was supposed to be reviewing for the calculus test I was going to take in an hour. It was a subject I already knew a lot about, and I had done well when I took it in high school, so I knew I wasn’t going to review much when I sat down. Still, I tried looking over formulas just in case there was something I had forgotten but I got bored and decided to look out the window at the passing cars below.
I was thinking about random stuff like I always do when I get bored when a guy knocked on the table to get my attention. He pointed to the seat across from me and I guessed he wanted to sit so I just nodded. He sat down and I hoped he didn’t start talking to me like some people do. I don’t like small talk when I’m studying. I wasn’t really studying but I wasn’t really in the mood to talk. He pulled out his laptop and I noticed it was one of the bulky, expensive gaming ones. I recognized it because a guy in my dorm loved showing me his and talking about how expensive it was. I guess I was staring at it because he asked if I wanted it. The question caught me off guard and my first thought was that he was annoyed that I was looking at his stuff. I just shook my head and looked back at my notebook.
“No really. The VA office says I can upgrade soon, so I’m gonna get rid of this one.”
I looked at him and wondered if he was serious. “I’m alright,” I said and looked back down. I didn’t ask him how much he would sell it for, I didn’t have enough to buy a laptop like that anyways, even if it was used and a little beat up.
“Really? I’ll give it to you for free!” he said. This caught my attention and I looked up quickly. He had his eyebrows raised and was smiling real big like he was amused by my reaction. I doubted he was serious, but I still asked him if he was really offering it for free. “Yeah!” he said kind of loud. We were in a quiet area of the building with other people studying at tables close to us. It wasn’t a designated quiet area, but I don’t like the idea of people listening to my conversations, so I like keeping quiet in places like this. “Why?” I asked making sure I said it quietly enough so that only he could hear.
“I don’t know. Like I said I’m getting a new one and I don’t need two laptops and I don’t need the money, so it would just be sitting in my room collecting dust.” I didn’t buy it. That was a really nice laptop, and I couldn’t believe he would just give it away. I wasn’t going to fall for this practical joke he was trying to pull on me, so I changed the subject.
“You were in the military?” I asked. This seemed to catch him off guard. He took a second before answering yes and nodding his head. He got a faraway look in his eyes and I immediately regretted asking. I felt like I triggered a bad memory and I wanted to apologize but his smile returned quickly.
“Yeah, I was in the Army a couple of years back. You remind me of a friend I lost during a tour in Afghanistan. You look just like him. Maybe that’s why I felt like giving you the laptop.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. It was so sudden, and it caught me off guard. I just said, “Oh I’m sorry.” He laughed and said, “It's not your fault! Why are you apologizing?!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. I was surprised he was laughing. Well, I was a little relieved he was laughing. It meant that I didn’t ruin his day by reminding him of a devastating event in his life. He reassured me that everything was okay and that he was learned to cope with that loss a while ago. He continued on to tell me how he met him and the things they went through together until the day of his death. I listened to every word he said. To this day I still remember everything he said in great detail.
When the story was done, he thanked me for listening to him and asked if I wanted the laptop one last time. “I don’t need one, but I can give it to a friend who does,” I said. “Okay great! Just let me finish this assignment and erase everything in here,” he said. Then I realized that my test started in 5 minutes so I told him I can get it from him after the test. I left to take the test that only lasted about 45 minutes. It was somewhat hard to concentrate after the story I just heard but I still got it done pretty quick. When I got back to the area the guy had gone. He left the laptop and the charger on the table with a yellow sticky note on it the laptop. It read, “Thank you for listening. I hope your friend likes the laptop.”
I never saw the guy on the campus after that. My friend did make good use of the laptop for quite some time before it gave out last month. I hadn’t spoken to him much for a couple of years until he contacted me to tell me about the laptop giving out. He told me how much it helped him get through his classes and thanked me for helping him find it. I had never told him all the details of how I got it until that day he contacted me. It almost made him cry.
“That’s such a tragic thing,” my friend said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “It's much sadder to think about why he valued so much that a random stranger listened to him. He must have not had anybody else in his life that he could confide in.”

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