Birmingham, Alabama, 9:07 a.m.— He sat across from us in the hospital waiting room, wearing an Auburn hat, his cellphone pressed against his ear. He couldn’t have been more than forty—maybe forty-five.
His eyes were red. He covered his face with his hand, but he wasn’t hiding anything.
A swell of tears hit him again. The sound of his stuffed-up nose could be heard across UAB.
“It’s not good news, Mama,” I heard him say into his phone.
The old man beside me had drifted off to sleep. The television above us blared commercials at a volume loud enough affect the climate.
“BUY A NEW KIA FOR NO MONEY DOWN! COME IN TODAY AND WE’LL THROW IN A…”
Auburn-Cap walked toward the elevators.
“I know, Mama,” he said. “But the doctor just told me it’s… Mmm hmmm, yes ma’am…” More pacing, more biting his lower lip. “I dunno, they say it’s bigger… Yes ma’am… We’re still waiting on results…”
“Y-y-yes ma’am,” he stammered. “I dunno know, the doctor says it’s too early for that…”
By now, the eyes of the entire room were upon Auburn-Cap. He rested his forehead against the wall, probably wishing he could vanish into thick air. “They’re sending me downstairs,” he whispered. “For another test…”
“THIS MONTH IS CRABFEST, RED LOBSTER HAS ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT CRAB FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY…”
The old man beside me woke up from his nap and stared at the crab-leg deal of the century.
Auburn-Cap had fallen silent. Except for the occasional, “Yes ma’am,” or, “I know, I know…”
“CRAB, CRAB, AND MOOOOORE CRAB! TWENTY-FOUR NINETY-NINE!! WE’RE CRAZY ABOUT CRAB!!”
Auburn-Cap went on, “I know, Mama. I love you too. I love you…” After he said goodbye, he shoved the phone into his pocket.
He walked outside. Through the window, I could see him light a cigarette. He sucked in a lung-full big enough to fog up a residential attic. And then he cried at full-throttle.
“WE’VE GOT CRABS SO BIG THEY’RE PRACTICALLY CRAWLING OUT OUR KITCHEN BEGGING TO BE…”
Auburn-Cap’s chest heaved. His cigarette fell out of his fingers.
I don’t know what kind of personal hell awaits him, or what the doctors told him. In fact, I don’t know anything about him—except that he likes Auburn University. But I know something without even the faintest of doubts:
His mama loves him.
And so do I.