After school, Terrance would go to the diner across the street where his mom worked. He would sit in a corner booth and draw, read, and do his homework.
Every day a man sat in the booth across from him. He was always reading a newspaper and sipping on a cup of coffee that his mom would always refill.
Terrance tried to talk to him once, but all the man did was give him a grumpy sound.
“Hmmph,” he would say and turn the page of his newspaper.
His mom said that the man didn’t talk to anyone. In fact, he hadn’t spoken to anyone since the first day he came in. And then it was just one sentence, “Coffee, black, and keep the cup filled.”
It was his mom’s job to keep the man with the newspaper’s cup full.
One day she was busy with a large group of people and didn’t fill the man’s cup. He looked up from his paper and made his grumpy sound.
“Hmmph,” he said.
Terrance knew where the coffee pot was. He stood up, got the coffee pot, and took it to the man with the newspaper. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Terrance. What’s yours?”
The grumpy man with the newspaper did not answer. He only said, “Hmmph.”
Terrance filled his cup, put the pot away, sat back down, and drew a picture of the napkin holder on his table.
His mom came over to him after the group left, “Thank you for your help, Terry.”
Terrance didn’t like when his mom called him Terry. It sounded like a girl’s name. He was most definitely not a girl. “Hmmph,” said Terry, trying to sound as much like the man as he could.
“What’s wrong, Terry?” Mom asked.
“You know I don’t like to be called Terry. It sounds like a girl’s name.”
“It’s not a girl’s name. It is your name, and you are most definitely a boy.”
Terrance could have sworn he saw the grumpy man lower his paper a little and look at him. He was almost sure he even saw a smile. It was small, but it was there. But just as quickly he went back to reading.
A couple of days later, his mom was busy again with a larger group of teenagers. Just as before the man with the newspaper’s cup went empty. He looked up and gave his grumpy noise, “Hmmph.”
Once again, Terrance stood up, got the coffee pot, and took it over to the grumpy old man with the newspaper to fill his cup. And once again Terrance tried talking to him. “Hello, sir,” said Terrance. He had learned that from listening to his mom talk to diner visitors. Again, he introduced himself. “My name is Terrance. What’s yours?”
This time the man lowered his paper and said, “Do you really want to know my name?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” said Terrance.
“If you can answer my riddle, then I will tell you my name,” said the old man.
“I love riddles,” said Terrance.
“Okay then. Here it is… When you look in the mirror, you see me. When you talk to people, you hear me. When you say my name, I am an echo.”
“Hmm,” said Terrance, his face squished up in thought. That was a hard one. He filled the man’s cup, put the pot back, and sat down and drew a picture of the salt and pepper shakers. He thought about the old man with the newspaper’s riddle.
It couldn’t be right. When he looked in the mirror, he saw himself, not the old man. When he speaks, he heard his own voice, not the old man. And how can he say his name when he doesn’t know what it is. Terrance’s face squished in thought. Then he smiled. He knew the answer.
His mom was still busy with the teenagers, and the grumpy old man with the newspaper’s cup was empty again. Terrance stood up, got the coffee pot, and went to the old man.
“Hello, Terrance,” said Terrance.
This time there was no mistaking, the old man smiled. “Actually, my friends call me Terry.”
Terrance was surprised, “You don’t think it’s a girl’s name?”
“It’s not such a bad name. It is my name, and I am most definitely not a girl,” said the old man still smiling.
Terrance filled Terry’s cup, put the pot back, and sat down. His mom came over to him, “How are you doing Terrance?”
He looked over at the old man. They both smiled.
Terrance said, “No, it’s okay mom, you can call me Terry. It’s not such a bad name after all.”
Originally posted August 16, 2019