I met him on a blustery day in late October. I was sitting on a bus stop bench, reading the day's newspaper, trying to ignore the damp chill sinking into my bones. The South is incredibly beautiful, but humid beyond my usual tolerance. It was a gray overcast day, so I was surprised to see a thin young man wearing sunglasses walk out of a coffee shop across the street. His green scarf was wrapped loosely around his neck, and hung down his back, contrasting with the dark grey of his jacket.
I have never thought of myself as a patricularly nosy person, but I am very interested in the things that happen around me. On a whim, I decided to follow this young man, though I was careful to stay a block or so behind him. He turned right and went up a small side street. He didn't seem to be aware of me following him, so I dared to come a little closer. At the next intersection, he turned left around the corner, I lost sight of him, and quickened my pace a little in hopes of finding him again. I suddenly found myself at the street corner, looking up at a large spired building. A shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds for a moment, and the basilica's shadow stretched across the road for a moment, before fading back into the grey dimness of the afternoon.
One of the doors stood open, and I found myself drawn inside; there were few lights on, and the sanctuary was dim. My eyes took some time adjusting to the light, because I stumbled in the back of the room.
"It's unusual to find anyone else here at this time of day," came a quiet voice from one of the pews. I squinted into the gloom, and could just make out the gleam of candle light on two black lenses.
"Most people don't stop by here unless there's a Mass. And unless I'm mistaken, you're from out of town." I could see him now, silhouetted against the dimmed lights at the front of the sanctuary. He slowly removed his sunglasses, and looked at me.
"Yes, I'm just in town visiting. I'd heard about the basilica and wanted to see it. I guess I came at the wrong time, it's too dark to see anything in here. I suppose I'll come back when they turn more of the lights on." I got up to leave, embarassed at having been noticed.
"Actually, I like the santuary best at times like this. It's quiet now, and the lights don't hurt my eyes."
I let out a short laugh, which echoed around the room. "That's a bit of an understatement. It's so dim in here that I can hardly see. But I guess it would be gentler on the eyes in some ways."
He shook his head. "I see more than you do." He walked over to where I stood, and looked into my eyes. His eyes were almost black, the pupils wide and dilated. "I was born with abnormal pupils. They don't close right in bright light, so I don't go out much in the day." He held up the thick black sunglasses. "On cloudy days like today, I can just manage with my shades." The thin young man saw the look on my face, and laughed quietly. I guess I must have had a ook of pity, because he continued, "Don't feel sorry for me. I have a night job, and I live a normal life. Well, not normal as most people would consider normal, but a full life."
I nodded; my eyes had adjusted to the dimness, and I coudl see him more clearly now. He stood in the aisle, leaning against a pew, eyes fixed on the green carpet at his feet though he seemed to be looking at something much farther away.
I took another step toward the door, and he looked up again. "Can you look outside and tell me if it's still cloudy? I should be getting home, but if the sun's breaking through I can wait a while."
"What if it clears off? Will you wait till night?" I wished I had a car to offer him a ride, but I'd come into town on the bus lines, and walked anywhere I wanted to go.
"I won't have to wait long in any case. There's a storm coming up, I can smell the rain on the wind. Didn't you notice it? It's such a unique scent, almost a metallic tang, but so much sweeter. It'll be raining in another hour or so, and I can make my way home then, if I need to."
I went over to the door and opened it. "It's alright, the clouds are heavier now, it's darker than when I came in." He put on his sunglasses again, and joined me at the door. "Good. I shouldn't have any trouble getting home then. Thank you."
"What if it rains while you're walking home? Isn't there anyone you can call to come pick you up?"
"No, it's alright. It's not that cold today, and the walking keeps me warm anyway. I like the rain. I can see more in the rain than I can in the sunlight, and even more when it rains at night." His smile looked strange, with his eyes hidden behind the dark lenses. "If you come out in the storm tonight, I can show you a little bit of what I see. Believe me, it's like nothing you've ever seen in the light of day." He scribbled short set of directions on a slip of paper, and handed it to me. "I'll be there when the storm hits. Once you've seen what I see, you won't feel sorry for me again." He gave a slight bow, and touched the edge of his glasses like a salute. Then he turned and was soon out of sight among the buildings.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in my hotel room, pacing restlessly. Out of my window, I could see the street below; everyone seemed to be hurrying by, eager to complete their daily activities before the rain hit. Every so often a large drop would hit the window, but it didn't begin to rain in earnest until the sun went down. It peeked out from behind the clouds, red and swollen, for a few moments, then seemed to sink into the waters of the river.
Almost at once, the wind rose, and I heard the rain begin to fall. I shivered; it looked cold outside, and I had no raincoat. I wanted nothing more than to fix a pot of coffee, and settle down with a good book, but I found myself pulling on a thick sweater and a pair of boots, and setting out into the storm.
The first gust of wind took my breath away, and I wrapped my arms around myself. I was saoked through in a few minutes, and quickened my pace to try and keep warm. I stopped under a streetlight to check my directions, and continued down the street. In about half an hour I found the place; it was almost completely dark, away from all the street lights, and I felt a moment's hesitation. But then the lightning flashed, and I could see a thin form standing on top of a small hill, arms spread outward and face upraised to the sky.
"So you did come!" he called to me, as I walked up beside him. "I thought you might not; every so often I invite someone out here, but usually no-one comes."
His face was pale in the cold night air, and I could see the steam from his breath. "It's cold out here, and it's night. I can't see anything." I stepped up beside him, shivering.
"Here, stand on top of this little hill. Now face into the wind. Dont' worry, the rain might sting a little, but it won't put out your eye or anything. Look out there, straight into the wind."
I turned slightly, and felt the rain dash itself against my face, stinging the blood to my cheeks. Beside me, the young man lifted his arms to the sky again, and began to sing. The words were drowned out by the wind and the thunder, but the tune was wild and joyful, sad and sweet. As the lightning flashed, I could see the leaves caught up by the wind, swirling in a mad dance, and the trees shone wetly green, but after an instant the sight was gone.
"What do you see," I called into the wind.
"I see red leaves so sharp-edged that you'd swear they drew blood, whirling in a crazy wind. The trees are throwing themselves against each other like giants wrestling. The grass shines in the lightning, and glows dimly green in the rain. The raindrops are like meteors blazing through the air, and I can see them flattening themselves against the asphalt."
The storm rose in fury, but I didn't notice it. The things I could see in the flashes of lightning could never compare to what my companion saw in the darkness of the night. I stood there for an hour while the storm spent itself out, listening as he called out the sights that passed before his wide-open eyes.
Finally, the wind died down, and the rain slowed to a steady drizzle. My companion had gone, disappeared into the night. I stumbled my way back to my hotel, drawing the stare of the desk clerk as I came through the lobby. I must have been quite a sight: soaked through to the bone, hair tangled by the wind, with bits of leaves caught up in it. I took a hot shower, but even after I was warm and dry, I couldn't sleep. I sat by the window, with all the lights in the room off, watching the rain. Finally, just before dawn, I fell asleep.
My bus left at 10am, and I barely made it. I had just enough time to fling myself into the last remaining window seat. I stuffed my bag under the seat in front of me, and looked out at the small town. I caught a glimpse of a few people milling around the station. Near the street stood a young man, thin t-shirt covered by a jacket, large black sunglasses protecting his eyes, and the looks of pity he received from those who passed by. He touched the tip of his glasses as the bus went by, and then he was gone.
I never found out his name. But even now, I go out and stand in my backyard when the rain comes, and sometimes I can see a little.