There is a middle aged man about 15 feet away from me on his knees in the Humphrey Terminal of the Minneapolis airport. He probably just got here about two seconds ago, because I hadn’t noticed him until now. His red checkered plaid shirt is neatly tucked into his blue jeans and his bald head is bent over something on the ground. His movements catch my peripheral vision and distract me from my screen for a second. I pause from watching my movie and squint to see what he’s up to. There is a Minnesota Wild t-shirt stretched out in front of him, no sign of creases or wrinkles. He spreads his hand over the shirt, smoothing it out once again and I notice a gold wedding band on his finger.
He then grabs the corners of the shirt and folds it inwards with the precision rival to any high-end retailer. He pushes the sides down, tucks the tags in, folds the shirt into a square and sets it on top of his black bag. From a pile on the side, he grabs a smaller, pink shirt, and meticulously follows his folding routine. I count the shirts—one, two, three, four… four shirts, all different sizes and colors, probably for his young children. Maybe I imagine this but with each t-shirt it seems like he takes extra loving care, so by the time he’s done folding them, he has a perfect stack resting on his black bag.
He looks up and notices me watching him. He winks and gives me a big toothy grin as if to say, I’m on my way home to see my family, and boy, am I excited. I glance away, and then back again because I can’t resist watching him. I’m an outsider to his little ritual but I want to know how it ends.
He slides a hand under the pile, careful not to knock it over, and balances the four little t-shirts on his left knee while he unzips his black bag. There is a perfect space inside, right next to a stack of books and what looks like a small travel-sized tube of toothpaste, and he gently wedges the pile of t-shirts in the space. He zips up the suitcase, gives it a little satisfied pat, stands up jerkily, as though kneeling on the hard floor is killing his worn joints, and grabs his suitcase handle. He turns around to walk away, glances over his shoulder, catches me watching him again, and gives me the same toothy grin. Then he saunters away down the terminal hall with extra purpose in his step…perhaps he’s eager to get home.