One afternoon, I found myself alone with stash man in the common room. We called him that because of his crumpled Sears bag filled with miscellaneous stuff, like Snickers bars, dirty fidget spinners, or mismatched hospital socks. I glided over to the mint green sofa where stash man sat smiling, waving his stubby hand to sit beside him, which I did. Without a word, I reached into his bag and pulled out a candy bracelet. He placed it around my wrist and I held it up, delighted by the shimmering pastel candies in the swath of afternoon light.
Earlier, I was concerned about the college student. I heard him on the phone arguing with his mother. “There’s no fucking way I’m staying in this shithole for my birthday! For fuck’s sake, it’s my birthday, Ma!”
Then, he kicked a chair. Birthdays or holidays drove most of us to the edge. In a karate-style move, he smacked his book off the table and onto the floor, so I asked if he wanted some candy. “Yeah. Chocolate,” he said.
“A Snickers for our friend,” I said to stash man. After all, the poor kid was one of us.
Stash man winced, looking like a flustered aide about to break an important rule. Every item from the bag was supposed to be a surprise, a special gift. That was the whole point. Still, he retrieved a Snickers bar from his bag and tossed it to the college student. “You gonna tell your big city friends it wasn’t so awful here?” he said.
I wasn’t surprised that stash man knew I was on track to be discharged soon. I was scheduled for release, but I had mixed feelings about it. It loomed like a devil emoji punctuating my thoughts.
“Tell them about the gifts I gave you.”
“Of course,” I said.
At the wall calendar, a nurse was posting the names of patients with birthdays this month. The only male name posted was Tad, but I’m pretty sure the college student was a Todd.
“I have to stay here and bring hope to everyone,” stash man said. He said this at least four or five times a day; I eventually expected it as one might expect a mundane greeting.
I looked over at the college student. He was crouching and conditioning his limbs before he suddenly executed a clumsy fly-kick. Soon, he’d walk around the room asking everyone if he was just like Bruce Lee. Each and every one of us always said he was.