He walked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Watching for a moment, he appeared hypnotized. Watch him too long, he’ll hypnotize the viewer, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
He kept the same pace. He seemed to pace off his course. He walked a certain number of feet along the sidewalk one way before turning and walking the same number of paces the other way.
Then, he turned and walked the path again.
He seemed penned in by the cracks in the sidewalk. He seemed imprisoned by the lines in his face.
He could walk further. Sometimes, he did. He'd walk around the block. He’d circle several blocks. Sometimes, when he returned, he broke into a run, a sideways trot, a hunched-over, rubber-band gait. Even during the run, his face remained pinched, downcast, eyeing his feet passing along the cement and asphalt below.
But mostly, he stuck to his path within the confines of a few yards of sidewalk, back and forth ...
He smoked a cigarette during these walks. Or maybe, he walked to smoke his cigarette. His feet moved a certain number of paces. The cigarette burned between two fingers. The arm extended. He'd flit any ash off the end of the cigarette. His arm rose. He took a quick drag. He exhaled smoke. His arm and the smoke returned to his side. A few steps later, the cigarette traveled the same motions.
Part of the pacing, the out and up and down of the cigarette were part of the man’s locomotion. Smoke drifting away like steam from a cartoon robot. His movements crisp as if smoking a cigarette were a military act — a soldier moving his rifle in formation.
Everything well contained from the number of steps to the thoughts motivating those steps. He seemed willfully trapped in this route, in this concentrated automation of mind and body.
Until, you saw him on a bicycle ...
Then, he was no longer a man on a sidewalk. He was like a boy on a bicycle. His legs pumped the pedals. He leaned into the handlebars. He sped along the sidewalk breaking the force field that kept him in the back-and-forth barriers of his pacing.
He walked the line for so long. On the bike, he colored outside of the lines, like using every color in the box. He pedaled down side streets. His head and shoulders pushing past the handlebars. His eyes no longer downcast but glowing like rising suns. A smile shattered the lines of his face.
He was free.
For a few minutes, he was free.
At least, until he returned, the bike put away, and he stepped outside for a smoke along his stretch of sidewalk, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, while the bike rested safely waiting ...
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.