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The Man in the Tattered Suit

     The man in the tattered suit was always there. The suit’s color had faded so long ago that it was hard to say whether it used to be black or grey or green. And it was impossible to tell if its dangling threads were from wear or simply from a battle with time itself. The aged man inside the suit was even more of an enigma. Whenever a patient had gone comatose, there he was in the waiting room, slouched in the same corner chair, like a sloppy, spindly gargoyle.  

   When asked for his ID, he gladly provided a battered, long since expired driver’s license in silence. And whenever he was in the room, he was the very model of chivalry. In fact, he was so genuinely polite that nobody thought twice about asking him to leave. The nurses had long since stopped placing bets about who could finally wrestle from him a straight answer as to why he was there. Without fail, he would simply nod and, in his deep and creaky voice would utter the same four words: this is my vigil. And while not a soul in the waiting room seemed to recognize him, there was one patient who, when she came out of a coma, did a double-take when she saw him on her way out. In any case, the man wasn’t hurting anyone, so they left him alone in his corner. He became something of a fixture in the hospital waiting room, joining the dusty plants, outdated magazines, and discarded pen caps.

     It might have been different if the man in the tattered suit hadn’t slept so much. He was almost always sleeping. His old, angular frame slumped back into the padded chair, his pointy chin resting on his chest and his long fingers laced together over his concave stomach. He was only slightly balding, and his surprisingly thick, dark hair was slicked back neatly, almost helmet-like. And when the slats of his dark eyelids occasionally opened, his eyes looked both sweet and sad.

     Even though he slept soundly—often for hours at a time—he somehow looked even more exhausted when he finally opened his sunken eyes. It could have been the harsh fluorescents in the waiting room, but there was a deep fatigue there that went far beyond the sickening lighting. After waking, he would walk haltingly over to the water cooler, as though the tiled floor beneath him could give way at the smallest misstep. Once he had successfully crossed the room, he would raise a paper cup to his lips and drink as if he’d just crossed a desert or vanquished an enemy. And as he drank, he would brace himself against the wall with one of his long, thin arms, as if either he or the wall might collapse at any moment.

    He was a man of few words, if any. And as far as anyone could tell, he never really spoke with the families of those waiting. He would, however, often shift his weight toward them and open his mouth a crack. One of the nurses at the front desk even swore she heard something like a low squeak once. But his liver-spotted hands would tremble, and he’d fall back into his seat where he looked wistfully at the parents, children, and whatever other relations were there to comfort each other.

     On these rare occasions when his waking eyes spied the visitors waiting for a sign of life from their loved one, his old eyes were often misty. But nobody ever saw a tear streak his cleanly-shaven cheeks. For, in spite of his suit’s shabbiness, his face was always clean-shaven and shining. That is, except for the last time.