“The Bowlegged Man” — A Short Story by Joey Spadoni

Photograph by Joey Spadoni

He doesn’t understand me at all, she thought to herself. Doesn’t he know how exhausted I’ve been? 

She kept driving, even though she had long since passed her exit. She didn’t really know where she was going, she just had to go. After their fight, all she wanted to do was get as far away from him as she possibly could. 

Her 2006 Subaru Impreza was the kind of beige that only her mother would have selected. It wobbled whenever it surpassed 55mph, so it was wobbling something fierce as she sped along at 85. She kept changing the song, even though she wasn’t listening to any of them, irritated and frustrated and sad all at the same time. 

Is this relationship worth it? Does he even know me? I have to connect all the dots for him!

Then, on a whim, she veered off the highway and along the exit ramp with no sense of where she was headed. Her impulses were leading the way. 

The recently paved road brought her to a small village center. The main street was lined with tiny shops; patrons ate their lunch at small circular tables on the sidewalk, and visitors carried tout bags filled with goodies from store to store. 

When was the last time he took me somewhere like this? All he ever wants to do is stay at home and do nothing.

She reached into her purse and rummaged for her sunglasses. After a few seconds of blind searching, she chanced a glance inside her bag, then looked back at the road and swerved to the left at the last minute. A man had been walking in the street.

She pulled over, heart racing, and got out of her sedan, prepared to berate the man for his stupidity. Just as she began to open her mouth, she noticed the look in the man’s face, and she paused. 

He stood no taller than 5’5, was overweight and stocky, with a rather large rump. His suspenders connected his khaki shorts and a short sleeve button down banana-colored shirt, which was poorly tucked in. He had a slightly disheveled look about him, though his thick gray beard was neatly manicured, and his thinning hair was combed over his obvious bald spot. He was very pale, and purple veins could be seen up and down his arms and legs. He smiled at the woman, and she saw his missing teeth; he must have been in his seventies. 

“Sa sorry, miss,” he stammered. His black eyes betrayed a deep and forlorn sadness. “I didn’t see no body comin’.”

“Why were you in the street?” asked the woman. She was surprised by the calmness of her own tone. Something about the man had penetrated the storm clouds of her black mood. 

“I didn’t want to disturb all them nice folk enjoyin’ their lunches.” He gestured over his shoulder at the guests dining on the sidewalk outside a nearby café. 

She noticed that the man was very sweaty and carried a large wicker basket. It was quite hot, and the scorching sun had given the man a sunburn. 

“Oh, okay then,” she said curtly, turning around and getting back into her car. 

As she started her engine she watched as the man waved goodbye and began to walk along the road. It was at that moment that the woman first noticed how bowlegged he was; the man’s chunky thighs bent awkwardly outwards from his hips and arced downwards towards his swollen and shaking knees. From there, the man’s veiny shins continued to curve down to his feet. He had a pronounced limp, almost as if he was waddling from side to side, trying to generate enough momentum to propel himself forward. His shirt was soaking wet and stuck to his back, and he panted from the strain of his forced march. 

Sitting there in her car, watching this poor man struggle along, she felt a new emotion, one she hadn’t felt all day—empathy. 

“Hey!” she called out. “Where’re you headed? Can I give you a ride?” The man turned around slowly, pulling out a damp handkerchief and dabbing at his sweaty forehead. 

“I don’t want to put you out, miss.”

“It’s fine,” she replied. “I don’t have anywhere to be.” The man began to smile shyly. 

“Well, that is mighty nice of ya.” He waddled over to her car and opened the passenger door. It took him some time to get in; he rotated around and then dropped his backside down, causing the entire car to rock aggressively. 

“Okay then,” said the woman awkwardly. “Where to?”

“Just up the road a ways, please, miss.”

They drove together in silence for a few minutes. The man asked if he could open the windows, and the woman obliged, even though she didn’t want the wind to mess up her hair, which it did. The man hummed to himself and nervously gripped the wicker basket in his lap. After ten minutes, he told the woman to pull over. 

“That should be fine,” he said.

“You sure? I can take you all the way.”

“No, no. This is fine.”

The man used his upper body to try to climb his way out of the sedan. After a few seconds, the woman hopped out and jogged around the front of her car towards the passenger-side door.

“Let me help you,” she insisted. The man grunted affirmatively, clearly embarrassed. The woman gripped his right forearm and tugged upwards, while simultaneously reaching her left arm around his waist and helping navigate the man into a standing position. Just as the man fully exited the car, the wicker basket fell to the ground, and the top opened up, spilling a bouquet of flowers out onto the pavement.

“Oh, no, no, no!” bellowed the man. He attempted to crouch to scoop up his flowers, but his legs wouldn’t allow it. The woman stooped and quickly gathered up the roses. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got them.” She patted the man on the back and could feel his heart beating rapidly. 

“Ah, I . . . aah, they were . . . ah, thanks,” he wheezed, gripping the basket more tightly than before. He wouldn’t make eye contact with her. 

“Okay then. Goodbye,” she said. She waited next to her car as the man gently replaced the damaged bouquet back into his basket. 

“Thanks again, miss,” he said, having regained some of his composure. He began to limp off in the direction of an alley between two shops. 

Her curiosity got the better of her, and she silently followed after the man, careful to leave enough distance between them. She watched as he waddled to the end of the alley and then off across a parking lot. The woman kept her distance and thought to herself, where is he going?

He struggled along, never showing signs of slowing, pulled forward by something. A calling? A meeting? A mission?

The man exited the parking lot and made his way along a sidewalk until he reached a small local cemetery. He was huffing and puffing, sweaty, shaking, and exhausted. His limp was more pronounced now, and even from a distance, she could hear him groaning from the strain. 

She stopped at the entranceway, rooted to the spot as she realized what she was watching. 

The man approached a clean gravestone and slowly sat upon a granite bench. He opened the wicker basket and took out a framed photograph which he placed on the ground against the stone. The man was trembling as he laid the bouquet of damaged roses on the grass in front of the photograph. He lit a small candle, and then began to unwrap two blueberry scones encased in shrink wrap. The woman could see the man quietly sobbing. 

After a time, she wiped her eyes and averted her gaze from the bowlegged man in the cemetery. She reached into her purse and took out her phone as she walked away along the sidewalk. 

“Hey, it’s me. Can I come over so we can talk?”

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