The girl pauses in mid-curse as he catches her eye. She looks him
up and down, taking note of his familiar knapsack, his cap, his shape
Sun Man, she says plainly, and her face cracks into a wide
smile. The thundering herd of children continues down the boardwalk,
intent on terrorizing another cross-section of the street market.
He smiles in hello and extends his hand. She takes it. How are
you? he says.
Could be better, she says. Unconsciously, she rubs at her arms,
and he sees deep bruise marks there, a thin chalk-line scar down her
forearm that terminates near her wrist. What should he say to her?
Banal words of encouragement? At least you have your health.
In one of the island countries he visited, the prevailing attitude
Buck up, things will get better. No matter the magnitude of
the problem, no matter how despairing the situation, friend and stranger
alike will say these words to him. Buck up, things will get better.
No one actually believes these words, and it is a scientifically documented
fact that the population of the island is shrinking with each passing
year, as older generations die and younger generations escape to other
countries where it is easier to feel miserable and make money, and
yet those who stay behind continue to say Buck up, things will
get better, like words from some ancient scripture whose meaning
has been forgotten.
Sorry, he says to the girl. Maybe you'll feel better next
time we see each other.
It's been seven years, the girl says. Maybe next time I
won't remember you.