The Honest Work of a Feather-Covered Chalk Boxman

The box made Alex uncomfortable, but the man was confounding. This sight took up Alex’s attention everyday evening as he looked out the window on his bus ride. There were other staples of Alex’s ride of course. He tolerated the sign twirler directing people to the Chick-Fil-A and the banjo playing man who walked between cars. Alex could calibrate his day around those rituals, but not this one.

Alex called him Boxman. Boxman spent his afternoons on the same city street, filling in the same box with chalk every day. The ritual occurred at the northwest corner of two one-way streets—Vine Street (north-to-south) and Holland Avenue (east-to-west). Boxman worked in the space just past the parked cars on Vine. He carved out his intersection—for an awaiting pawn or knight perhaps?

When Vine Street had a red light, Boxman ran out with a piece of white chalk—the big sidewalk chalk, not chalkboard chalk. He drew a box, about four feet on all sides. Without a straightedge or measuring stick, Boxman created an almost perfect square every time. Then Boxman pressed the chalk flat and rubbed it against the pavement, whiting out the area. Depending on the buses arrival at the spot, Alex saw the different phases of the project. He guessed it took Boxman about forty minutes to complete the box.

Boxman’s gray cloak, covered in feathers, added to the mystique. These were not bird feathers, but colored feathers found in craft stores; short blue, red, yellow and green feathers glued into place. Boxman also wore a traffic cone on his head. The lime green traffic cone would glow in the dusk of the winter months.

Alex saw Boxman from the Holland bus every day on his way home from work. Alex lived by routine. After work, he took the bus home to watch Jeopardy. Alex never deviated from his schedule. Boxman’s routine jarred Alex. Alex assumed his life varied drastically from Boxman, but they met on this corner every day. The craziest part, Boxman didn’t know about Alex. Alex spent hours thinking about the man with the feathered cape and the cone on his head. Boxman never thought about Alex.

A couple of times, Alex walked to work in the morning just to pass the spot of Boxman’s square. Each time, Alex was astonished to find no trace of the box, merely wet pavement.

When it rained, Boxman simply drew the box’s outline and watched the chalk rinse away. When it snowed, he shoveled out the spot. If someone parked in the spot with their hazards on, Boxman waited for the car to move before starting with the chalk.

Alex had a lot of theories about the spot. Maybe Boxman hoped aliens would land there. What if something tragic had happened in that box and he performed this ritual to pay his respects? Perhaps Boxman made that box because he knew something important would happen there in the future.

One Friday, after going to a bar while Jeopardy was tape delayed for a sports game, Alex rode the bus home late. As he passed the intersection, he saw Boxman, this time in white feathers instead of the multicolored ones. Boxman wore the same cone hat and carried two water buckets. As Alex watched from his seat in the idling bus a few feet back, Boxman dumped the first bucket in the square and then pulled out a squeegee. He began to wipe the chalk off toward a storm drain. The bus whisked on, but Alex craned his neck for a long time, looking at the white-feathered Boxman drowning his work.

Alex never talked to Boxman. He dared not walk by the man as he filled in the chalk. That would have taken Alex out of his routine. Strangers might ruin Alex’s schedule.

For something that consumed so much of Alex’s thought, it’s amazing he never found enough curiosity to end up in that box.

One Tuesday, Boxman did not show up to work on his box. He never filled that chalk box in again.

I would like to tell you why, but how should I know? Alex never asked him.