The Ragman would arrive at Malley's Bookstore every Tuesday night at 9:00 PM. He would shuffle up to the counter and, staring firmly at the menu on the counter in front of him, say one word.
That was the only word I or any of my co-workers had ever heard him speak. His gray-white eyebrows furrowed down to hide his eyes and curly wisps of hair of the same color jutted out at odd intervals from under his maroon stocking cap. His beard was shaggy and white except for a teardrop-shaped section of gray just below his lower lip. When I handed him the chipped ceramic mug of steaming hot coffee, he would look at me, his sharp blue eyes now fixed on mine, and nod his smile slowly, a silent expression of thanks. The warmth of his smile was apparent even through the crosshatched creases on his weathered face.
I began working at Malley's five months ago. Malley's Bookstore was a moderately trendy retail establishment on the end of a moderately trendy strip mall in the middle-class suburb of Eden Valley, a Minneapolis suburb. The mall was located across the street from a large public park, a great bonus for those who wished to read outdoors. The store was a popular hangout for college students, and offered employment to students who, like myself, required supplemental income to pay their way through school. Even with its close proximity to the local colleges, the store was frequented by people of all ages and all income levels. We would often receive a request from an elderly couple looking for books on living wills or memoir-writing. Another day we may have a sci-fi/fantasy genre fanatic asking about the release date of the next book in the series by Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin or Piers Anthony. In addition Malley's offered a small café in the front corner of the store, a great boon for those who needed a caffeinated reading aid. We saw nearly as many different types of customers as we did different types of books.
The Ragman, however, was curiously different from any of the broad range of customers we normally encountered. It was not unusual for a customer to be less than talkative – that was actually quite common among the straight-suited businessmen who frequented Malley's and couldn't waste their valuable time talking to a simple clerk – but the Ragman was unusual because his demeanor was friendly in spite of his quietness. He was even courteous, as evidenced by the fact that his regular table never needed to be cleaned after one of his visits.
The oddity about the Ragman that earned him his nickname was his garb. The nickname was certainly fitting. His drab gray coat was literally coming apart at the seams, and virtually all of his clothing gave the appearance that the person who did the sewing had been told to use as little thread as possible in the assembly. Everything he wore had a look of extreme wear, making appear as though no part of his attire had been worn by less than three or four others before him. He was not dirty, nor was his clothing; it was all just worn to a degree of drabness that would make it appear dirty no matter how much it was cleaned.
Over the five months I had worked at Malley's I could remember only a couple Tuesday nights that did not include an appearance by the Ragman.