As I stand, waiting, underneath a rare burst of wintertime sunshine, a homeless man, draped in an enormous coat, clutching a beer can inconspicuously cloaked in a wrinkled paper bag, hovers beneath the bus shelter beside me.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Nothing out of the ordinary in this city.
He strolls over to a nearby trash can to toss out his paperbag disguise, and his eyes meet mine as he turns back.
"Hi," he says through a grin peppered with missing teeth.
"Hi," I reply back.
"Aren't you from HomeTown?"
I stare back at him, stunned, and tug out my earphones. "Yeah, I am. You too?"
We fall into a conversation, me with a latte in hand and an argyle scarf picked out to match my jacket slung around my neck, him clad in layers and stubble.
He recognizes me merely from "around". It occurs to me that he may be the older boy who lounged around the mall as I flitted about in ill-fitting uniforms in first and second jobs.
Whilst it seems to me that most people in his place would seek to tug their hoods over their eyes to avoid contact with those who knew their past or regale those from their past with tales belying their current condition, he is refreshingly earnest. He speaks of relapses and of trying to finding affordable housing while avoiding the ghetto, but also the positives of this particular city. He makes no excuses for where he is; he does not rant. He is not attempting to exchange a sob story for cash. He merely narrates. And, when my bus pulls up, he bids me goodbye, with nary a request.
Interactions like this remind me of how thin the line is, of times when money was so tight I couldn't breathe, of random bursts of luck or misfortune that can collapse that pile of precariously balanced dominoes.
They remind me of the boy I knew growing up, who laughed and teased and sparkled, and then was somehow transported to a bench downtown, hundreds of miles from home, with the deadest eyes I'd ever seen.
And I am so grateful that yesterday's blue eyes still had some sparkle in them.