I saw it coming.
I willed him to just keep walking; the man with the flannel shirt and shocking red beard and the joint perched jauntily in one hand. Move along, move along, nothing to see here. But he was slowing already, drifting over to where I stood with my camera and bringing with him the acrid stench of cheap weed and stale body odor.
I tried to ignore him. The sun had set and I was losing light fast. I adjusted my settings and snapped off a few more shots.
But when I pulled back from the viewfinder, he was at my shoulder, staring at me expectantly. “…Eez eet beauteeful?” he asked in a startlingly thick French accent.
When I didn’t respond, he gestured toward the rapidly dimming scene and then at my camera. “Eez eet beauteeful?” he repeated. I paused, weighing my options; I didn’t need a repeat of Angry Tree Lady. Eventually I shrugged noncommittally and said “I think so,” and returned my attention to the camera.
He nodded and turned away – I assumed to leave – but he only wandered a short distance before stopping again. I could see him in my peripheral vision standing some feet away, looking intently back and forth between my subject and I as if trying to solve some sort of advanced mathematical equation.
A few more shots and adjustments later, I finally arrived at an image I was happy with. Red Beard perked up visibly as I began packing up my gear. I could see the anticipation in his eyes before the question was out of his mouth.
“Eet eez beauteeful?” Such hope infused into the words.
This time I didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” I replied, smiling despite myself.
At that he grinned, and threw his arms outward as if to embrace the sky. And he strolled away down the darkening road, whistling into the evening air.