As Van stepped out of his silver Buick, tossing his keys into the air and letting them jingle back down to his palm, he took note of the scruffy janitor walking in front of his 5-story apartment building. The man was headed for a door being held open with a traffic cone. This door, to Van’s introverted annoyance, was placed just to the right of the door he needed to get into his apartment.
Van made his way across the parking lot and onto the sidewalk. The janitor passed by Van and stopped to pick up something that Van hadn’t noticed. The janitor tosses the object into the trashcan as if it were a personal insult directed at him. The man sneers under his graying mustache toward Van, who was—understandably—confused by the look.
The janitor pivots his direction to confront Van. “Hey man,” he begins with a gravelly voice. The kind of voice that shows up after decades of chain-smoking. “Was that your cigarette butt?”
Van was frozen for a moment, letting this information process. He turns back to look at his car parked in the lot. He was sure that if he went back to it and placed a palm on the hood it would still be warm. He turned back to the strange man that was accusing him. “Um. no, no, that’s not from me, man. I just got here. Just parked my car.” Van turns to point out his car to the janitor.
The old man doesn’t seem to be fooled by this obvious and foolhardy lie. He steps closer to Van. His gravelly voice lowering and smoothing out to a fatherly tone the way only old men know how to do. “That may be, but you do know whose cigarette it was?”
Van was unsure again. The question was a little confusing also, and Van—too his horror—couldn’t understand it fully, which meant he needed to ask for the question again. Van hated to do that to people, especially strangers. Extra especially for strangers that are angry with him. He glanced to the door leading inside the apartment stairwell; his escape home. This accusation needed to end quickly. He asked the dreaded question that everyone hates to ask. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. What was the question?”
The janitor sighed with impatience for today’s youth. “Do you know whose cigarette it was?”
Van was taken aback at this man’s confusion. How could he possibly know whose cigarette that was? He had literally just gotten back from work. And, if that wasn’t a strong enough argument in his favor, this apartment building was 5 stories tall, dozens of residents, and he didn’t know any of them. Other than his girlfriend and roommate, Morgan. Van took a hesitant step toward his escape as he spoke. “Sorry man. Like I said, I just parked my car. I couldn’t know who was smoking out here.”
The janitor looked disappointed. He was looking for justice, but he must settle for the thankless job that is a custodian. Picking up the trash of anonymous citizens who treat him the same as the dirty cigarette butts they leave on the sidewalk. The janitor only shakes his head and turns. Stepping around the traffic cone and into the poorly lit supply closet.
Van took a beat to think on the peculiar court case he was just apart of. He then remembered his beautiful girlfriend and puppy upstairs in his apartment waiting for him. He scanned his way into the apartment building and bounded up the stairs to see them.