The Last Dance

Just around the corner on the outside of the Houston Skyline lies an intersection. It’s surrounded by four traffic lights, a street light and a grassy knoll that sits just off the right side. It was perfectly framed through the plate-glass window I was looking through. You could just make it out through the writing on the glass advertising the great burgers the place sold. I had just sat down to eat my lunch. That was the first time I ever saw Bennie. He was a little man who wore a brown suit that was too big for him. His shoes had no socks or shoe laces, and the tie he was wearing hung past his waist. He had a felt-covered hat on that looked like something out of the thirties. I don’t know why, but my first thought was that he was homeless, although he carried no sign and he wasn’t asking anyone for money. The little man in his late sixties or early seventies had his left arm extended in front of him and his right arm bent at the waist, like he was holding on to someone. His slow motion took me a second to figure out. He was dancing. Even his face appeared to be pressed against another. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as I sat there eating my salad. I watched him for about an hour, finished my lunch, and went on my way. As I left that day, I kept him on my mind, enough so that it brought me back the next day.

The weather was bad as it had been raining most of the day, so I really didn’t expect to see Bennie there. Much to my surprise, as I turned the corner, there he was, dancing in the rain. I had thought to myself that if I saw him again, I would invite him to have a burger with me. I covered my head with my jacket and crossed the street to ask him if would like to have some lunch with me. He continued to dance, his eyes were closed and I got no reply, so I turned around to head back across the street when he spoke.

“Could I have a cheeseburger?”, he politely asked.

I turned and said, “Sure, if that’s what you’d like.”

“I’ll join you just after my dance”, he said.

I crossed the street and positioned myself in line and ordered us two cheeseburgers, fries and two milkshakes. I waited at the counter for the order and by the time the food was ready, Bennie had made his way to the same table I sat at the day before. He was dripping wet.

“I’ve watched you dance before,” I said, “and your quite good, but you’re going to get yourself sick if you dance in the rain”.

He looked at me and said, “The rain washes us clean, the sun helps us to grow, and love, my friend takes us where we want to go”.

“Fair enough”, I said.

We didn’t talk much after that, but he did tell me his name, mostly keeping his head down the whole time. After we finished eating he stood up, extended his hand to me and thanked me for his lunch. It was the first time I really got a close look at Bennie. My first assumption had been right, his face was unshaven, his clothes were coming apart at the seams, his little hands were worn and dirty, and his face looked very tired. He obviously hadn’t taken a bath in sometime. “Listen”, I said, “I come around here quite often. Would you like to have lunch again sometime?” He smiled and said,
I’m here everyday at noon.” “Good,” I said, “I’ll see you again soon, Bennie”.

It was a few days before I made it back to that side of town, and although I hadn’t seen Bennie, he was on my mind for some reason. As usual, when I pulled up, he was there in his favorite spot dancing. As I got out of my truck, I noticed he stopped a second and recognized me. I have to admit, that brought a smile to my face. I yelled out, “I’ll be at our favorite table!”

I ordered his favorite meal and when Bennie finished his dance he joined me. I had stopped the night before at the drug store and bought him some shaving crème and a razor. In a bag, I had brought him a pair of socks and t-shirt and some clothes to wear. I placed them on the table and told him that the bag was for him. He never looked at them. He was a little more relaxed this time and asked me my name. I had told him my name the first time we met but he didn’t remember.

“You like music?” he asked. “Yea, I love music,” I replied. “You like Jazz?” “One of my favorites,” I replied.

Bennie then opened up like a music box and talked for a solid hour about all the greats like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and even sang a few lines for me. I got a kick out his love for music. After we finished our burger, he, like before, extended his hand to me and thanked me for his lunch. He picked up the bag I had brought for him and placed it under his arm and said good-bye.

I didn’t see my friend again until the following week. He joined me again for lunch. He looked tired and he was wearing the same clothes. Nothing that I brought him. His face was very stubbly and he sat quietly with a slight shake. He was eating his lunch with a good appetite. I wanted to ask him if he had any kind of family. Maybe with the hopes of helping him find them, but couldn’t bring myself to ask the question. Instead I asked something silly, “Ever been in love Bennie?” He finished his bite and smiled at me. What’s her name son? he replied. “Excuse me?” I asked. “She does have a name, doesn’t she?” “Yes.” I replied with a chuckle . “Let me tell you something about love” he said. The key to a woman’s heart is to wear her favorite suit. “Wear her favorite suit?” I asked. “Yes, a woman has many interests.” “You have to find the one that leads you to her heart.” He went on, “For my love, it was dancing.” “I met her when I was twenty at a dance that a friend and I attended.” “I didn’t know a thing about dancing, but we had heard it was good place to pick up girls.” “I wanted to play sports or maybe be the president”, he said with a smile, “but that all changed when I saw her for the first time”. “If a woman cares enough about you to lead you to where her heart lives, you better listen and learn.” “So I learned to dance.” “I married Connie a short time later and over a few years we became very good at dancing, so much so that it became a dream of ours to dance on the big stage.” He could tell that I wanted to ask the question about where she was, so he went on to answer the question without me asking it. “We had a child after we were married, so we set our dream aside for a while, so that we could raise our son. As he got older he began to get himself into trouble running the streets. He would stay gone for several days at a time and it took its toll on us. One night he left and didn’t return. We had all but given up hope when Connie received a call that day from one of his friends saying that they thought they had seen him. Connie went to find him and while driving the car she was broad sided by a drunk driver who ran a red light and she was killed.” He then described her to me with such emotion and with such vivid animation that I felt that she was sitting there with us eating lunch. “She was tall, with long flowing hair, a funny smile and a soft voice. She could dance like an angel and sing like Billie Holiday,” he said. He was growing tired and I could see by looking at him that he was feeling just about every emotion that God ever intended for us to feel in a lifetime. He stood up, shook my hand and thanked me for lunch. I thanked him and told him I would see him soon.

As I lay in my bed that night remembering every word of Bennie’s story it occurred to me that the reason he wasn’t wearing any of the clothes that I had brought him, was because he was wearing her favorite suit. He had been wearing it for some time too, and as I fell asleep, I took with me the vision of he and his beautiful wife dancing. I saw Bennie for the last time on December 11th. It was my birthday and I wanted to see him, so I drove to the diner. As I turned the corner I didn’t see him. I parked my truck and went inside. Bennie was sitting at our table. His face was clean-shaven, his suit was clean. He was wearing the socks and belt that I had brought him and the t-shirt just under his freshly pressed shirt he always wore. His hair was perfectly groomed and he looked ten years younger. “Bennie! You look great my friend!” I exclaimed. He smiled and said, “You’re late.” I got the feeling he had been waiting for several days. I told him to sit tight and I would order our favorite meal. I returned with our burgers, but he didn’t eat much. He looked anxious. I finished up my burger while he watched. We sat in silence for a few moments and then he spoke. His eyes were focused and his expression quiet. “For twenty years I’ve been coming here to dance”, he said, “and twenty years I have been invisible, not because people couldn’t see me, but because I didn’t allow them too”. “I never came here to dance for them, that was a dream that was shared by two and lost long ago.” “I came here to dance with her.” He then looked out across the street at where he had danced for so many years and when he turned his head back to look at me he had a tear running down his cheek. “I have saved the last dance for her everyday at noon, right there at that intersection. That’s where she left me, and what a dance it has been.” He then asked me, “Who will you save the last dance for?” Bennie then stood up, but he didn’t extend his hand to me as usual. We stood and looked at each other for a few moments. I wanted to say something but couldn’t get the words out, and he could see it on my face. I put my hand out for him and he grabbed my arm and pulled me close and kissed me on my cheek. He turned around and walk away.

When I first met Bennie I never knew that I would be the one being saved. His wondrous stories of love and life will change my life forever. He had the spirit of an angel, the wisdom of a wise man, and the heart of a child. Bennie opened his heart and aimlessly pulled his bow back and shot. I was just the lucky one to be in its path. I drive by from time to time but have never seen him again. A few weeks ago I stopped to eat our favorite burger, but I couldn’t bring myself to look through the window. I guess I’m a little sad, but there is a part of my heart that hopes that someone needed him more than me and maybe Bennie found his way home. I still miss my friend. When I finished my lunch, it began to rain outside. I put my jacket on, opened the door and stepped into the rain. I took a look at Bennie’s stage again. The light pole that erected from the center of where he once danced flickered on, and with the rain and dark clouds it became a spotlight where he once stood. It was beautiful. I walked across the street, stood under the light, took my jacket off and whispered, “This is for you.” I extended my left arm straight out and put my right arm around her waist and I danced. I danced for Bennie, I danced for my children, I danced for the ones I love, and I danced for all that loved him.

All the world is a stage for those who care to watch. The next time you turn the corner and see someone dancing, it might be worth a second look. Who knows? Maybe they are saving the last dance for you.

Copyright 2011, Mark Rash. All Rights Reserved.

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