I picked up the cigarette off the ground and handed it back to the bum’s shaking hand that had dropped it.
“Th…th…Thanks” he stammered.
“Need a light?”
A few snowflakes had landed on the end of the cigarette and sizzled when the flame licked at them.
“You been out here all night?” I asked.
“Every night” the bum said as he leaned against the wall and slid down it slightly. It had been a long day for him and it was going to be an even longer night. But it didn’t matter…it was all the same…the days….the nights. He wasn’t going anywhere.
His breath was hoarse and stunk like a festered wound that had been doused in too much alcohol.
His fingernails had dark gunk under them and his skin was so dry and cracked that his whole hand seemed to be made out of knuckles. His eyes caught mine and flashed away. I could see a world inside there….from all of his years…one after another…stacked on top of each other. The pain from all his mistakes and all the pain from everything that wasn’t his mistake. His dreams, his loves, his daughter, his friends….everything.
“Got a quarter for me?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t” and gave him my the rest of my pack of smokes. There were 2 left.
“Ohh wow, thanks man! Yeah, I like Camels…yeah! Great, thanks!”
I wondered how much difference a quarter would have actually made in this guy’s life. If he had a quarter would it help him get closer to buying a bit of food? Or some clothes? Or some booze? Or smokes? Or a hit of something a bit harder?
Did I even care what he used it for?
No. Even if I helped finance that decision….who the fuck was I to stand in the way of another person’s decision that had no effect on me? Gifts shouldn’t come with strings, they should be enjoyed however the fuck the recipient wants. If you want to control how to spend a gift, then give it to yourself.
I still didn’t have a quarter.
I wondered tho, did he know what he wanted and was he saving up for it? Or was he just automatically asking me for money because that was his job…that was his existence….every little bit counted and he needed every little bit. He’d figure it out later depending on how much he had.
He coughed a deep, cavernous cough that reverberated through his body a few times and ended with a shot glass full of phlegm getting hawked onto the sidewalk with a splatter.
I shivered. He shivered. He was cold….I wasn’t.
There was a real person under that hull of an exterior.
Past all the rough edges and stinky layers there was a little boy that a mother used to care for and groom.
A young man that would kiss the love of his life like there was nothing else that mattered.
A man that would laugh with his friends and joke about the world’s problems.
A man who loved his daughter and hoped she was happy wherever she was now.
A man who felt invincible in life, who took risks and had dreams and wanted and do something meaningful.
A man who wanted to grow up and be somebody.
And there he was. He was definitely somebody….although I don’t think it was the somebody he intended.
At what point did he get off the merry-go-round? What was the final straw that made him say, “Enough is enough….i’m out.” Or did he just wake up in the gutter one day…sober as a nun with a headache louder than church bells.
It’s like when you’re playing monopoly with a group of friends and you’re the first to lose. Everything just skips over you like a flat rock on a calm lake. You watch everyone getting paid, collecting money, buying things, making moves, developing plans, smiling and laughing and living as large as possible. You’ve already spent your moves, you didn’t plan well, you didn’t choose well, you didn’t spend well….as a matter of fact, you didn’t do anything well. All you can do is keep kicking that rock down the sidewalk. Not only does Monopoly suck, but life sucks…and apparently, so do you.
Or is this guy the smartest man ever? He doesn’t own anything, he has no future and he has no past. Nobody cares what he does or where he goes or what he says, he could do and be whatever he wants! Truly a free man! But being a free man in a world full of slaves doesn’t get you very far.
Perspective takes all types. Some of the most unhappy people are beautiful and rich and some of the happiest people are ugly and poor. Most people don’t really think about things too much and will die with a half-smile on their face that they rented for the funeral.
But was this guy happy? It didn’t seem like it. But he didn’t really seem sad either.
Was I happy? What makes me happy? Can I be happy without being sad? I doubt it…how would I know what happiness was if I didn’t have something to compare it to?
I looked at the bum. He looked at me. I walked away.