Alex put his finger to his lips to shush me. Then stretched his neck to peer into the inner glass doors to the of the library. He stood up, slipped his arms through the loops on the sleeping bag, and pulled it up on to his back. Then he pointed towards the outer doors.
As we stepped outside, I started to speak. He shook his head and put a finger to his lips before pointing to the pocket containing my phone. He cupped his hand around his ear as though he was listening to something. He held out his hand and motioned for me to give it to him.
I frowned and shook my head ‘no’. He threw his hands in the air, turned, and began walking away. I never liked or did well with charades. This was frustrating.
I took several steps and put my hand on his shoulder. With the stealth of a cornered animal, Alex reached around, grabbed my wrist, and flung me to the ground. He put a hand on my chest and a finger to my lips urging me to be quiet. Once I nodded, he released me.
Breathless and in pain, I slowly sat up and stared at him. He motioned like he was driving. I shook my head.
He pointed to me and then made the driving motion again. I mouthed ‘you want me to take you somewhere’. He emphatically nodded. I sat there for a moment before mouthing ‘are you kidnapping me’. He rolled his eyes and started walking away again.
Still winded, I forced myself to my feet, jogged ahead of him, and stopped in his path. He stopped and scowled. I motioned for him to follow me to the parking lot.
I unlocked the doors and started to get in the driver’s seat. Alex put a hand on my chest, yanked my phone from my pocket, threw it inside the SUV, hit the lock, and slammed the door.
“What’s with you?” I asked.
He shushed me, put his arm around my shoulders and directed me away from the vehicle. Several yards away, he finally whispered as we continued to walk, “They can activate the microphone on the phone. We need to talk, but can’t let others hear.”
“Whose they?” I asked. He motioned for me to keep my voice down. “Look you need help. Let me take you some place where the can help you.”
“I need help, but not the kind you think,” he whispered. His eyes darted from me, to the tree line, to the parking lot, over his shoulder, and finally back to me. “A lot has happened since you asked to see the ‘Miracle Trees’ years ago.” He made air quotes. They’re endangering the ecology in unimaginable ways and it may be too late to stop it.”
We walked to the far end of the parking lot and sat on the crumbling hip-high stone wall that separated the lot from a small park. He slouched after sitting down. This once solid man now looked underweight. He stared straight ahead as he said, “The ‘Miracle Trees’ are crowding out the normal ones. The animals won’t or can’t use them. The forest is dying.”
I sat quietly for a long moment. “Is there proof they’re the cause? I thought they were the answer to preventing forest fires.”
He stared at the ground with furrowed brow. “Proof?” He stared off for a bit and then brightened slightly. “If you saw the devastation with your own eyes, would you believe it then? I can show you acres of it.”
This might be my opportunity to him help. I’m not comfortable going to the middle of a forest with a seemingly unstable person, but he’s a friend. Alex had always been level headed in the past.
He hugged his midsection. “When did you eat last?” I asked.
He squinted and looked skyward. “Not last night, but the night before. The bakery threw out some stale doughnuts and I found half a sandwich someone must have not liked.”
“You never answered my question. Are you homeless?”
He nodded. “Nobody wants to give me a job these days. I had been staying with the woman I was helping yesterday. She became angry when I tried to calm things down at the greenhouse. We were nearly arrested. She told me I’d have to find somewhere else to stay.”
“Let me buy you breakfast and then you can show me this proof.” Maybe if I earned his trust, I can convince him to get help. He nodded as he stood up.