Working in retail, I’ve had many experiences with unusual people, coworkers and customers alike. Some weren’t bad, just odd. This one guy who worked at the second store I went to while attending school, let’s call him Todd, was an odd duck of his own unusual category. He was underweight, so much his belt struggled to cinch his pants tight enough around his narrow hips. His work shirts hung on his arms like clothes pinched to a clothesline, always swaying around his pole-thin body. He stared wide-eyed, as if always caught by surprise each time you uttered a word to him, large brown eyes as round and wide as saucers. The top of his head was barely protected by wispy, thin brown hair that was always combed straight towards his high-rising forehead, pale skin stretched over sharp cheekbones and a small mouth puckered above a narrowly pointed chin.
I always mentally saw him as a sickly fawn, scrimshaw in stature and terribly timid. He always held his hands tenderly to his stomach, like permanently ailing from a stomachache. His voice never raised above a hushed tone, making it difficult for customers hear him and constantly ask him, “Excuse me? What?”
He didn’t own a car, didn’t drive; his mother always dropped him off and picked him up from his shift. Because of this, he always raised an issue with the manager about his schedule. Sometimes his mother couldn’t pick him up or drop him off, so he couldn’t work the shift scheduled. Several times coworkers glanced at me and said, “He’s freaking twenty-seven. Cut the chord already!”
Another coworker rudely stated, “God, he’s going to be a virgin forever. I can’t imagine any woman wanting to get near that.”
(I shut them down, btw, because though odd, yes, Todd was a nice guy, and never acted mean or rude to anyone so I felt this last comment was snide and bullying).
He was the slowest worker, too shy to move at a fast pace as if scared he’d be hit otherwise. Sometimes his hands would lightly tremble; was he sick? It would have made sense but I never learned otherwise.
He always kept to himself, socially awkward and unsure, horribly hesitant.
I still feel a pang of sympathy for him, though it’s been years since I’ve seen him. I hope he’s still doing well but his awkwardness made the air tense and uncomfortable, making it difficult to get to know him. It’s hard to talk to someone who barely can meet your eyes and behave like a stricken, shaking puppy ready to piddle on the floor. Maybe some people could speak to him with friendly ease but I found myself only saying hello to him every so often after a while.
We all can name one strange folk in our environments; in the neighborhood, at school, at work, on our daily transport (say the bus or the train). Doesn’t it make sense to add a few to your story, too? There’s always an odd man/woman out in life. Want your story to be realistic? Add the people who make us painfully sympathetic but keep them at bay from your protagonist, too. Make them sad or distant but keep them interesting. It’s a small thing but it can do a great deal to make your book, novel, or story believable.