Luck has not been on your side lately.
Lately – as if it had ever really been on your side. There would be moments when you thought things might be looking up, but everything would crash back down. That’s where you are now, in a dingy inn, in the back corner, nursing the same cup of bad wine and bad luck for the past hour.
The only thing that brought comfort was the book. You had read it at least fifty times but you didn’t mind. It was comforting, like an old friend. You flipped the page, trying to lose yourself in the words.
“I don’t mean to intrude—”
You look up. There is a man at the table next to you that you hadn’t noticed before and you wonder how long he’s been sitting there, chair turned towards you as he leans in. You close the worn book, one finger holding your place.
“But I couldn’t help wondering, what is it you’re reading?”
“Oh. It’s just a book of old folk stories. It’s not very interesting…”
“Nonsense, there is, uh, always something to be gained from any book,” he says. You feel the corner of your mouth twitch a little, almost smiling.
“I always thought so, too.”
He holds out a hand, not to shake but as if he’s asking for something. The torch light shifts and you’re able to get a better look at him. He seems to be in his thirties with ginger hair and blue eyes and a worn-out look that you recognize well.
“Do you mind? I would like to take a look.”
It takes you a moment to realize that's why he's holding out his hand. Part of you wants to say no. It’s one of the few things you have left. You look down at it with a frown and then back at him, trying to decide.
“I will give it right back, do not worry my friend.”
His voice is soft and the smile on his face is understanding. You look down and then hand him the small, leather bound book. As it exchanges hands, he pats the top of your hand and smiles again before eagerly turning to the table.
You watch as he scans the pages, faster than you would have believed possible, turning each page with care. You sit quietly, finding yourself smiling at his obvious enjoyment. It feels good to see someone else enjoying something that you’ve loved for so long.
It doesn’t take him long to finish and turn back to you.
“This,” he says, holding the book between both hands, “is very good. I enjoyed it very much.”
“Thanks. I’ve had it for a long time.”
“Yes, well.” He hands you the book back. “Thank you again.”
“Anytime,” you say, waiting for him to get up and leave. When he doesn’t part of you is glad – the company is odd but nice – and part of you wonders if there’s something more you should be saying. To hide the awkwardness, you reach for your glass. The wine is warm and has been sitting for too long and you can’t help but make a face.
“The wine here isn’t very good,” the man says in a conspiratorial tone.
You laugh a little. “No, it isn’t.”
There’s a beat of silence and then another and right as you’re about to say anything to break it, he speaks.
“I’m not very good at this. I’ve been told, by many people, I sometimes lack tact, but I notice you look down.”
That wasn’t what you were expecting and you can feel your cheeks turning red.
“Ah, see, this is what they mean.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just… It’s been a bad few weeks.”
“Down on your luck?”
Your laugh is bitter. You don’t mean for it to be, you don’t mean for it to sound so much like you’re holding back tears but it is.
“I have been there, believe me, I have been there,” he says as he reaches out to pat your shoulder. He’s not quite close enough and has to move the chair a little but in the end, he manages. There’s something endearing about it. “Do you need to talk about it? I may not be the best with words but I am a very good listener.”
You want to say ‘it’s okay, you don’t have to’ but that’s not what comes out.
“It’s hard. Whenever things seem like they might be getting better, everything goes wrong again. Every time. It’s like I’m stuck and nothing will change, it’ll always be like this no matter how hard I try.”
“I—I very much understand that feeling. It’s not an easy thing, feeling as though you don’t have a hand in your own fate.”
“No, it isn’t.” You press the heel of your palm to your cheek, trying to hide the tears. “Sorry.”
With a thunk, he scoots the chair closer again.
“But – and I don’t mean to presume – but you haven’t given up, ja? You are still here, still trying. That counts for something.”
“It doesn’t feel like it.”
“No, it doesn’t. A small consolation prize for a shitty game.”
You laugh and nod. Up to this point, life has seemed like a shitty game with ever changing rules, rigged against you.
“That sounds about right.”
“Perhaps it is a small comfort but I do believe that if you keep going, when everything is against you, that is some measure of strength.” A pause as he nodded to himself. “I think that there is something to be said for trying, even if you don’t feel it’s enough. I think—It is enough. You do enough.”
With everything that has happened, it’s hard to believe your strong in anyway or that anything you do is enough, but hearing someone else say it, you want to believe. You find yourself believing his words.
“Thanks,” you say, voice cracking a little.
He reaches out and pats you awkwardly, pausing before moving into give you an equally awkward hug. You wonder if he’s ever hugged anyone before but just like his words, it’s comforting as well. The way his hand rubs your shoulder briefly, the contact of another person. Something about knowing someone understands, someone seeing strength in you.
“You’ll be okay, my friend. I know it.”
A voice, scratchy and high-pitched, rings out from somewhere in the inn. “Caleb! Caleb, where are you?!”
“Ah, and that would be my cue. Thank you again for letting me borrow your book,” he says as he stands and moves the chair back with a loud scrape. He begins to walk away but stops and turns. “Keep going.”
And with that, he disappears into the crowd, the voice still calling his name, and you go back to your book, smiling.
It will be hard, you know that, but there is strength in trying even when everything seems against you.