"You are a gift," the stranger murmured.
I didn't feel like a gift. I was a forty-something mother of three children who hadn't flown the nest so much as they had fallen from it. I had too much grey in my hair, an aching back and a minimum-wage job at a fast food restaurant that always left me with a rabid distaste for anything fried. It was the dead of winter in Chicago, the snow was piled up in high drifts everywhere and my train was more than fashionably late.
I looked up from my book and wiped the hair from my eyes. My knitted cap was too small-it was something left over from the kids and it must have been from the middle school years considering how old the thing was. I touched it and was suddenly aware of my well-bitten fingernails.
"What did you say?" I was certain I had heard him wrong.
The man was tall. His dark hair was long, curls and waves that fell to his shoulders, greying at the temples. The cold wind picked it up and blew it back from his face. He was dressed in a trench coat, one of those plaid ones that always reminded me of private dicks in old-fashioned movies. He looked like he needed a good shave and a long nap.
"You are a gift," he said again, and this time I was certain I had heard him correctly. I was also certain he was a little bit nuts. They were everywhere, especially at this time of year.
"I don't have any change to spare," I said, and looked back down at my novel.
A laugh rumbled up out of him. It was low and soft and kept going, like a train coming down the tracks. I glanced back up at him, but he wasn't looking at me. His head was thrown back and he was gazing up at the grey sky, at the clouds that hovered too close. The laughter broke loose. It was loud and full-bodied, the kind of laugh that came from a man who had no worries in the world.
The belt of his trench coat opened a bit and I caught a glimpse of what had to be silk underneath it. That's when I noticed his shoes, polished to a high shine. On his wrist was a watch that looked expensive.
"Oh, shit," I said. "I'm sorry. I thought-well, you know what I thought."
He stopped laughing. It seemed to take a massive effort. "It has obviously been a long time since you thought of yourself as a gift."
"A gift?" I looked at him closely. He could still be one of those nutcases. He might just have a lot of money to take with him while he went down to the funny farm.
"A gift, a present, a Christmas delight," he said merrily, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to understand.
"You lost me."
He looked around at the other people nearby. Most of them were sitting on benches and not paying the least bit of attention. This was the part of town where someone could be mugged and nobody would lift a finger to stop it.
"These people sit here among angels, and they haven't a clue."