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April 24, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Eddy steps off the bus and onto the pavement, which is wet with melted snow. In his right hand, he clutches two long-stemmed flowers in white paper wrapping: one large white rose and a smaller red. In his left, he pulls along a tiny suitcase that was once cherry-colored but has now faded into a duller hue.
As the 30-something man lumbers away from the Greyhound connect bus and toward the Midway Travel Plaza, his enormous sunglasses reflect the sun. He wears a cream sweater jacket patterned with blue and orange triangles. Blue jeans give way to pearly white Pumas with red and black stripes.
He walks up to me and asks for the address of the building we’re in front of. He needs to give directions to the person picking him up.
I tell him.
He thanks me and then moves toward the north side of the building. As he makes his journey, he takes care to avoid the steady drops of melted snow falling from the roof.
“Who are those for?”
“Just a friend,” he says. I learn later that he is lying.
They’re for a woman he has never met but cannot stop thinking about. He has talked on the phone with her for an uncountable number of hours in the past year. Introduced through friends, they immediately hit it off. But he still has not made a real first impression. That’s why he’s here now.
Two years ago, he left Ethiopia for New York City. From there, he found a job in Cincinnati before moving to Coralville, Iowa, and eventually Iowa City. But this journey from the North has made him more nervous than he has ever been. That’s why he decided to wear sunglasses. He did not want her to see the fear in his eyes.
“Sometimes life has a lot of surprises,” he says in his Ethiopian accent.
He did not expect to make this particular trip. He was so afraid he would back out that he impulsively bought the Greyhound ticket a week ago to force himself into going.
Now, he is in the heart of Missouri after a stressful 12-hour bus ride. He has friends in town (the fellow African immigrants who initially connected him to her), but he did not tell them he was coming. Due to his multiple jobs, he only has a day and a half here, and he wants to make the most of his time with her.
He checks the contents of his tiny suitcase, and I can’t help but smile. A small piece of plastic breaks off as he tries to close it. In his nervousness, he picks the piece up, throws it into the street, picks it up again, and so on.
After some time, he pauses.
“She and I are going to have something,” he says, nervously waving the plastic piece around in the air.
“What is it?”
“Love,” he decides.
Minutes later, she pulls up in a red Ford. I move away, intent on preserving their moment. He does not notice. His eyes are on the car. On her.
She wears a leopard-print shirt and has white iPod headphones. She slowly steps out of her car, and they meet on the curb. They embrace. He cries. She cries. They fall together into the side of the building.
Finally, they load up his belongings. He remembers me and turns to wave.
“It was nice to meet you,” he says.
The moment is not mine, but I will never forget it. He flashes a wide grin, and their Ford follows the retreating Greyhound bus back out onto the interstate.