Benjamin Harrison ate his sandwich on the park bench, staring morosely at the gravel path. Nothing in particular was bothering him, for it was rare anything did, but his sandwich was making him think. Every day Michelle made the same thing: one half turkey and cheese on rye bread, the other half ham and tomato on whole wheat bread. Never mayo, never mustard, never lettuce, even. Just the two separate halves, making up his lunch.
The sandwich, he realized, mirrored his life exactly. Plain and boring, he subsisted on work and home. Day after day, he pushed papers until five o'clock, went home, ate dinner with Michelle, watched some television with her, and then went to bed. Nothing varied, nothing changed.
Nothing until half an orange was thrust in front of him.
Benjamin followed the hand holding the orange up an arm wrapped in a bright red sweater to the expectant face of a young woman.
"Excuse me?" he asked, wondering if she'd mistaken him for somebody else.
"Do you not like oranges?" she asked, sitting down beside him. "I hope you do. This one's especially good. It's not too sour, not too sweet. Perfectly ripe and tangy."
Benjamin hesitated a moment, searching the woman's face, then slowly plucked the half orange from her still-outstretched hand. "Thank you."
He ate a wedge as the woman tugged her matching red hat down over her ears. The bench shook slightly each time she kicked it while watching the other people nearby.
Benjamin finished eating one more wedge, then after a moment burst out, "Should I know you?"
The woman started, turning around to face Benjamin. She laughed nervously. "I'm sorry, I probably disturbed your lunch, didn't I? And I don't even know you. It's just that you looked so sad, and my orange was so good, and I've noticed you're here on this exact bench at the same time every day. But, oh, no, now you probably think I've been watching you, even though I haven't, I've only noticed you." She jumped up from the bench, tugging at her hat again. "I'm sorry, I should go. I hope you're not upset, it's just I – oh, I'm so sorry!"
Benjamin watched the woman hurry away, the bright red hat visibly bobbing through the other people. Losing sight of her, he turned forward again to find the rest of her orange still clutched in his hand. The sight of it made him realize he hadn't even asked for her name.
A gust of wind blew past, swirling the brown bag down the path, away from him. Benjamin sighed. Before standing up, he looked down at his watch then hesitated, and wrapped the orange carefully in a tissue to place in his pocket.
Benjamin Harrison sat on the grey park bench, slowly working on his turkey, cheese, and rye under the grey sky. The day was no different from any other except that Benjamin's thoughts kept drifting to the woman who had approached him the day before. It had been unexpected, but mainly just different. He was not used to different. His life was orderly. His life was plain.
He pulled out his ham, tomato, and whole wheat. Benjamin couldn't remember the last time someone had approached him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a conversation with someone outside of work or Michelle. Even then, the conversations contained only necessary information. At work, they'd confer about data. At home, he and Michelle would say the obligatory hellos and goodbyes before and after their separate work lives. Once a week, they'd make a list of the same groceries to buy. Occasionally, they'd exchange a few words about their meal or a story on the news. Beyond that, Benjamin never spoke to anyone. In fact, he was almost certain his inability to carry on a conversation would drive the woman away, if it hadn't already.
And yet there she was, walking over to his bench again. As she drew closer, Benjamin noticed she had another orange in her hand, partially peeled.
"I'm sorry about coming over like that yesterday," she said, plunking herself down as orange peelings fell to the ground around her feet. "I have a tendency to do things impulsively. Orange?" Still steadily peeling half the orange, she ripped off the clean half. This she offered to Benjamin without looking up.
"Thank you," he told her again, noticing she wore the same red hat as the day before. She wasn't as young as he had originally thought. Although she had a girlish, pixie-like face, she had to be at least in her early twenties, only a few years younger than he.
There was a soft whirr as a cyclist pedaled by. The woman was still mechanically peeling the orange even though there was no more rind. Benjamin swallowed his bite of ham, tomato, and whole wheat.
He couldn't understand why it bothered him so, but silence with his woman just seemed wrong. Unnatural. "I'm Benjamin Harrison."
"I'm Nina." She turned to him with a smile that lit up her whole face. It was as though this was what she had been waiting for, and it made her genuinely happy. "Is this your lunch break? I'm figuring it must be, because I never see you here on Saturdays or Sundays. I'm glad to finally meet someone who loves this park as much as I do. It's so full of everything! Sure, you could say it's only March, so it's too cold and too early to keep coming here, but just look at the children who are still here! And then the people like you and me, here for lunch, or for nothing in particular." She sighed in contentment, closing her eyes while tilting her head up. After a few moments, she righted herself, standing up from the bench and tugging her hat down. "I ought to go, since your lunch is just about over. It was nice to meet you, Benjamin."
As she walked off again, Benjamin realized that, for the second time in two days, he had not joined the conversation at all. Yet he felt like he had been a part of something, maybe even a friendship, and had enjoyed that fleeting glimpse of happiness.
Benjamin Harrison sat on his park bench for the third time that week, and found himself waiting for Nina for the first time. In his nervousness, he'd inhaled his sandwich in under five minutes. His watch seemed to be slowing down, since every time he looked at it, less time had passed than the previous check.
At last, he spotted her red hat bobbing closer and closer toward his bench. As she neared him, Benjamin opened his mouth to say hello. In his despair of not knowing what to say, he had stayed up half the night, trying to think of anything he could say to her.
"Have you always been called Benjamin? Because it really struck me that it's an awfully formal name to go by. What about Ben? Did anyone ever call you Ben?"
"I – um, I guess not." Benjamin never really had thought about it. He ended up feeling like he never had really thought about much of anything whenever Nina was around. She had this way of making him feel alive, yet deader once she left. It was that feeling, Benjamin realized, that drew him to her. He couldn't understand it, but he liked it. It was what he wanted, even needed, with Michelle. They'd fallen into a routine Benjamin was finally realizing he hated. No longer did they have fun or surprise each other as they had at the beginning. It's what they needed to get back to.
"Orange? I brought you one, too. That way we don't have to keep sharing, if it makes you feel awkward."
Benjamin appreciated this. He had enough to figure out in his life without her getting the wrong impression. As she sat there next to him, waiting for him to take the orange, Benjamin realized it was all he really had.
But he'd find a way to have more.
Perhaps Michelle liked oranges.