A few days ago, I was waiting for the bus near a store that was being renovated, when a old man stopped at my side. He seemed to be almost fifty, dressed simply but neatly, and carrying a paper tube like those architects or engineers use. Turning to me, he said:
“Nice sidewalk, huh?” The part of the sidewalk in front of the store had been renovated too, and constrated with the rest of sidewalk along the older stores, more clean and newer.
I only smiled. After ten hours in front of a computer, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to passing strangers, especially about such mudane subjects like sidewalks. The old man, of course, didn’t mind my mood.
“If you were an engineer,” he continued, “what would say it’s wrong about this sidewalk?”
“I’m not an engineer,” I replied, trying to stop the conversation right there.
“I know. Pretend you are one. What’s wrong with the sidewalk?”
I shrugged. I really wasn’t interested in the conversation, and even less in trying to find out what whoever had renovated the sidewalk had done wrong. The silence between us stretched for a few moments, and the old man finally seemed to realize I wouldn’t answer him. Even so, he saw fit to illuminate my ignorance about sidewalks.
“The sidewalk is too straight,” he explained. “Soon it will rain, and the water will pool in the midst of the sidewalk, which will then crack. I was in the building industry for more than twenty five years. We used to pay attention to this kind of things.”
I looked at him without making any reply. Adjusting the paper tube under his arm, the old man said:
“A good evening to you, young man.”
He quickly disappeared in the crowd moving around the place, a crowd that carelessly stopped over the (very) straight sidewalk, not worrying about rains or pooling water or anything like that, paying attention only to the store being renovated, asking themselves what merchandise it would sell.
In the end, I felt guilty about the whole thing. The old man only wanted to talk, to share something with someone before going home. No lessons or morals. Maybe just some recognition about something he had noticed, and that no one else thought important. And I, even though it would have been so easy to answer him properly, denied him even the simple courtesy of attention.