Nine-hundred and sixty times.
If the name written on the tag, attached to the brown duffel bag he always carries with him, is actually his name, he’s called Dolphin Whilcock. He has a skinny figure and looks like he’s in his late twenties; his face is dirty and needs shaving, his hair hasn’t seen a comb for years. Every two days he shows up at the same corner, where he stays stuck until sunset with his old flannel pajama bottom and gray t-shirt.
He knows precisely how many times the traffic light, located near the old apartment building where he appears to live, goes green everyday. When he is there, standing close to it, just like now, he seems to be hypnotized by the cyclical routine of green and orange and red. He may be wondering why the lights never blink at the same time, but nobody knows what he’s really thinking.
Though people say he can’t understand what the traffic lights mean, he has very clear in his mind that the red light stays on less time than the green one, but, yet, a lot more than the orange one. He has a certain preference for the orange light, maybe because its life is shorter than the others’. His memories are clearly bewildered, but he recalls someone telling him that he should appreciate brief things with intensified sensitivity. That’s why he stays, all day long, admiring the birth, death, and resurrection of the traffic lights. For him, that process represents eternal life, something he would like to have. He understands his life will not blink twice.
When he’s not planted on that corner, Dolphin Whilcock is walking barefoot around the square. He never goes beyond it, because he doesn’t know what waits for him on the other side of the street. He fears the unknown. In fact, when he spends the whole day looking at the traffic lights, he seems to be waiting for a new sign, an omen that will open a new path and set him free.
Everyone who lives in that particular block knows him, but not his history. The ones who try to talk to him aren’t able to sustain an intelligible conversation, because he goes no further than saying “hi.” Some of them provide him with food, which he gladly accepts. When they offer clothes, though, he declines and immediately opens his duffel bag, showing he has some clothes inside it. Nevertheless, he never changes the clothes he’s wearing. He’s made his old and dirty garments his second skin. The stuff he carries in his bag is kept for a special occasion.
“Nine-hundred and sixty times,” he informs a blonde woman who passes by, carrying groceries in a bag. She seems to be in a hurry -- mainly because she doesn’t have an umbrella and some rain drops are starting to fall.
“The green goes on nine-hundred and sixty times!” he shouts to himself, excited by the thunderstorm that’s forming right above his head. When the storm reaches that area, everybody runs, looking for shelter. He remains, gazing fixedly at the traffic lights under the rain, as if expecting a special vision. Suddenly, he faces a lightning-bolt, a huge discharge of atmospheric electricity, which blinds him for a couple of seconds.
When he’s able to see again, everything is different -- dark, almost lifeless. Something calls his attention more than anything else: the orange light is blinking now. There’s no green, no red; just orange. Totally soaked, Dolph grabs his duffel bag, crosses the street and disappears from sight.
(written in Y2K by R.Schrappe)