The Shameless Pirate

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

The answer to Julius’s prayers came on a Wednesday back in February when he saw an old man walking toward the supermarket. Even though it was snowing, the man wore only a long sleeve shirt and a scarf that was in truth just a long, patchy rag with splashes of color.

From then on, Julius began to take note of the man and document his peculiarities. For example, the man always stepped as to avoid the lines of the sidewalk. He never took his hands out of his pockets, and in them he endlessly fidgeted. And always, he was plugged into an outdated Walkman, nodding his head to whatever music was playing. His appearance was a reflection of his strange mannerisms,

though Julius could not say whether the man’s actions bent to match his aesthetic or vice versa. He had a scruffy orange beard perpetually trimmed to the same quarter-inch cut, dark inked lines on his bare head, and to top it off, he wore an eyepatch, which seemed to cover the other eye every time Julius saw him.

The more Julius saw the character, the more invested in him he became. Unless he had somewhere else to be, he would always come to the supermarket at five to three, the time he usually saw the peculiar man. Of course, the man was not always there, but as time progressed, Julius became better at predicting the days he’d see the Shameless Pirate, which had become Julius’s nickname for the stranger. The nickname always gave him a good laugh.

Running parallel to his intrigue, Julius’s quality of life skyrocketed. He took up cooking and jogging. His guitar, which had gathered two years of dust sitting in the corner of his room, finally played melodies again. Everything which had previously been in shambles seemed to be miraculously restored.

Often, Julius’s girlfriend would come with him to the supermarket. As they pulled up into the parking lot, he would try to catch glimpses of the Shameless Pirate without her noticing. Inevitably, though, disaster struck.

In mid-March, she spotted the Pirate, and laughed.

“That guy is what we all aspire to be, isn’t he Julius?” she joked. But this did not go over well on her lover, gripped by his admiration of the man. He felt offended even, as if his girlfriend had stolen part of his secret joy.

“There’s nothing special about him,” Julius said that day, “Go downtown, there will be thousands like him.” He knew what he just spat was a sheer lie. There was everything special about the Shameless Pirate, but he felt his heart pound, nearly shattering his ribcage, that horrible day when his girlfriend came so close to ruining the Pirate.

Julius spent months as a sponge, absorbing more oddities as his Pirate run-ins increased: the way he rolled a twig between his fingers when deciding between items, the way he pointlessly extended his arms in front of himself when walking toward the automatic door as if he thought it wouldn’t open without a push.

Around the tenth month, Julius heard the Pirate speak for the first time, from two people behind in the Express Lane. Though the sign said four items or less, the Pirate had five: tissues, bananas, a flashlight, a plastic jar, and batteries. The cashier, who seemed to hate his job was completely indifferent to the fact that the Pirate had one item over the limit and rang him up without any question. Julius laughed to himself at the queer combination of items. Then, he heard it.

“Would you like a receipt?” the monotone teenage worker asked.

“No, thank you,” the Pirate answered, waving his hand. His voice was subtly croaky but still extremely soothing. Julius was giddy with joy and decided that the next time he saw the Pirate, he would be ready to strike up a conversation.

Four times Julius would follow the Pirate into an aisle, but he could never find a pretext for striking a conversation.

The closest he had gotten was saying “excuse me” while passing, but the Pirate never seemed to hear it.

The fifth time he saw the Pirate, Julius prepared to ask him how he was. He had practiced it the whole way into the store, and he continued to practice it to the very aisle the Pirate was at, the candy aisle. He walked slowly, ready to engage his obsession, when suddenly, the man turned toward him.

“Young man, would you be able to help me out here?” he asked in his mollifying voice.

Julius grinned. The phrase ‘young man’ made him warm inside, as if somehow he had always known the Pirate would use it to refer to him. He came close to his idol, who was holding a bag of Almond Joys in one hand and a bag of Snickers in the other.

“Need help choosing?” Julius asked, The older man looked at him, dazed, as if he had forgotten that he had called him over in the first place.

“What? Oh, no, nothing like that. In truth, young man, I just need to know how these two are different. Or how, for that matter, they are different from any other candy here,” he waved his hand to show the wide array of candies before them.

“Well, they’re very different in taste. Snickers are more — ”

“Different in taste? They’re both sweet, are they not?” the Pirate interrupted, chuckling. Julius laughed too, though he was confused by this observation.

“Yes, but two things can be sweet and be different. And if you’re so certain that they’re the same, why ask how they differ?” Julius asked. The Pirate put the candy bags back and placed the earpiece of his Walkman around his neck. Julius could just barely make out ferocious piano music. The Pirate then turned and faced Julius.

“My point is: we are all different, different to our very cores! But, when you look at humanity in a broader sense, like with the candies, we are all similar in the ways that matter. Sure, the Almond Joys may have a coconut taste while Snickers have caramel, but they’re both sweet! And — ” This time it was Julius who interrupted the Pirate.

“What absolutely pointless generalities! How could you even begin to speak such nonsense! And to a stranger, one who thought you had more to contribute than this garbage!” he cried. He had almost lost his mind.

“I beg your pardon, young man?” The phrase ‘I beg your pardon’ was another that warmed Julius up inside. His face betrayed a red color, feeling horrible for having lost his temper on his savior.

“I’m sorry, that was totally inappropriate for me to go off like that. That was not like me,” he said, inching closer to the Pirate, who stared at Julius for a few seconds, then smiled. Julius saw that one tooth was whiter than the rest.

“Well, young man, what do you think? We do put too much emphasis on our differences and not our similarities. What do you think of my theory?” he asked, eager for praise. Julius frowned again.

“Well, to be frank, it’s neither an original idea, nor a sound one. And your analogy to chocolate bars is ridiculous. How can you compare the complexity of being human to… a chocolate bar? And your conclusion is what? That we are all sweet inside? How about murderers, cheaters, liars? Are they sweet too? Are we too unforgiving of them? Shall we free all of the inmates because we put ‘too much emphasis on our differences and not our similarities?’ Is that what you want, you complete moron?” He was screaming now. The Pirate just stared at him, no words, no expression, just shock.

“And to think I imagined you a godsend,” Julius continued, “I’d hoped for so long to speak to you, drill at you for, to mine your golden philosophy, to find the answer to your each of your oddities. I never considered that you would spill it all out at once, and that it’d be so fucking…. stupid! Some revolutionary!” Julius spat on the Pirate unintentionally, but it happened as though fated.

He stormed out of the store. Muttering under his breath on his walk through the parking lot, Julius cursed the day he met that idiotic man. Before he got into his vehicle, he looked back at the market that hours before had been his holiest place. He spat on the ground, this time with full intention.

The Shameless Pirate was originally published in The Yale Herald on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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