“Thanks for meeting me out here.” Carson loosens his tie. “Between you and me, if I had to hold one more interview in the mausoleum–that’s what I call the company boardroom–I’da lost it.”
The corners of the interviewee’s mouth turn up. He says nothing.
“Sorry,” Carson says, “I was just blowing off a little steam. Been through a hundred candidates and the boss still ain’t happy.”
“No apology needed. Life can be suffocating.”
“And how!” Carson flips inside his folder for the resume, looking for the name of the man sitting across from him at the Goines Park picnic table, “Uh, Uhmmer…Oomeer…Yoomer…”
“Any of those are fine. Don’t worry about pronunciation,” Umer says.
“Alrighty.” Carson pops a couple Rolaids and exhales slowly through Dizzy-Gillespie cheeks. “Now, I’m required to ask you all of these questions, so please bear with me. First, can you tell me how would your friends, family, and colleagues describe you?”
“May they never speak about me solely with their lips,” Umer says.
Carson blinks a couple times, waiting for more, but Umer only whispers a gentle ameen. “Mmmkay, uh, next. How many tennis balls do you think you could fit inside a limousine?”
“Oh, I’d only need one tennis ball, if at all. And I’ll walk to the courts, thanks,” Umer says.
“Ha!” Carson nearly spits out his frappuccino. After wiping his mouth, he says, “You know, at this point in the interview, every other guy would be scrambling at a hundred miles per hour to show off every learned math fact and flex every academic muscle he had. But not you. You’re very relaxed yet the most present person I think I’ve ever met. Very down to earth.”
Umer starts to laugh. His laughter continues to build, louder and louder to hysterics.
“Everything okay?” Carson hasn’t joined in on the laughing.
“Yes, I’m fantastic. I’m a huge fan of puns.”
“May I?” Umer asks, and gestures toward his brown wingtips, as if asking permission to remove them. Carson nods. Umer takes off his shoes and tips them. A cascade of fine dirt falls out of them onto the grass.
“Uh…you had that much dirt inside your shoes?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Okay,” Carson pauses, “Why!?”
“I guess I’m literally down to earth!” Umer releases another deep belly laugh. Carson’s silent mouth hangs open. “A few months back, I decided to fill my shoes with dirt each day.”
“Yes. I guess I figured it would make me think about the grave I’ll be inside of.”
“Are you…are you…ill?”
“Not that I’m aware of. But I am dying, as are you,” Umer explains.
“So, why do you want to think about graves?”
“It’s maybe less about what I want to do and more about what I should do: maintain a constant reminder about balance between struggling too hard in this life in one way and not struggling enough in another.”
Carson maintains eye contact with Umer for a minute, then says, “Hey, if I can convince the boss that you’re the hire we need, would you keep it to yourself that I skipped all the rest of these interview questions?”
Umer thrusts his hand into a firm handshake with Carson and says, “I can take it to the grave.”