The waiting room wasn’t so much a room as it was a few chairs and a television carved out of a hallway between two wings of the building. The floor was clean but the grey linoleum was worn. A small television perpetually tuned to CNN played softly on a swivel shelf near the corner. Even if his hearing had not been so deteriorated from multiple IEDs and he could make out the words, he was far too anxious to follow what the talking head was saying. He fidgeted and scanned the room… left to his 90 and then right; because his neck didn’t rotate the way it once did, he shifted his weight slightly from side to side to improve his field of vision. He was aware of the phone ringing down the hall, the clack of a file cart as it wheeled past, the low voice of the quite elderly gentleman asking something of the younger man propelling his wheelchair, a crackling noise from the speakers overhead. He occasionally tugged at the sleeves of his jacket, worried his fingers over the bill of the ball cap he held in his hands and shifted the envelope holding his papers from one knee to the other.
The only other occupant of the small area was a man who appeared to be in his 70’s. He was tall and wiry – his knees jutting forward from the chair. His back was straight although age bowed his head slightly forward. His skin was deeply creased like the soft leather of an old flight jacket. He had no hair to speak of and his scalp was darkly spotted with age. He wore a navy blue windbreaker that seemed a size too large with the word “Army” over the left breast and a hat that proclaimed him a Korean War Vet sat on the empty chair to his left. He stared at the television although the younger man wasn’t sure the older one could hear either given the hearing aid in his left ear.
The old man and the young man each sat at opposite ends of the one row of chairs – which wasn’t saying much with just four chairs to the row. They sat for a while in silence… each lost in thoughts. Occasionally when their eyes met, they would exchange glances and a look that wasn’t quite smile or grin… just a nearly imperceptible acknowledgement of the other’s presence.
After a while, the old man turned in his seat to the younger and asked in a deep, rich voice, “You a vet?”
“Yes, sir,” the younger man replied.
“Were you wounded?”
The young man looked away and remained silent for a moment before turning back with his response. “Well, I was blown up a few dozen times... but that thousand pounds of C-4 in a yellow dump truck got me.”
The old man remained silent for the briefest moment, then barely nodded his head as he thrust his hand at the young man. “Fair enough,” he said.
They shook hands.. the handshake of brothers... members of a brotherhood that no one wants to join. The bridge of generations. The silence of the room now wrapped around them and was unbroken before they went their separate ways that day.