The shortest day of the year

In my wallet is a gift card for a local coffee shop so I make my way there, I deserve a coffee. Walking up to the place, I notice it isn’t too busy. The shop radiates with a happy kind of busyness as the baristas freely give that extra touch of customer service to their senior patrons. Everybody meets me with a cheerful smile.

I order my Mocha and go.

Rain today and without a hat or an umbrella, my glasses catch water droplets – each one sticking to the lens, too minuscule to be affected by gravity. I get back into the car.

The coffee shop shares the square with a big name grocery store. I know by memory that there is a homeless man who usually sits by the doors there, collecting whatever generosity he can.

I remember that I have a couple of bananas I brought to work to last me until lunch. One, a ripe banana I put in my bag this morning, the other – also ripe – with a small tear in the skin from getting tossed around in my back pack last week. The smell of banana peel lingers slightly in the plastic, disposable bag.

A quick glance tells me the homeless man is there today.

I pull into the grocery store parking lot and find the first space I see in the middle of the lot. I take the bag of bananas and start trekking towards the man.

I usually give to homeless people what I can. I don’t break the bank but everybody is in need in some shape or form and when I am in the position to help I do. I know that $10 doesn’t buy them a steady life but if I have some food it’s better off in their empty stomach than becoming clutter in the fridge.

Other times it’s too painful to even chat, but today I can afford to.

His name is Mark. His nails are long and jagged and yellow. His beard is voluminous but not thick, each facial hair curls into a puffy spiral. His eyes are large and blue with a sadness that somehow makes him look younger than he must be. He wears a thick jacket, which is warm, tattered and grey, and has a gaze that momentarily meets yours, then drifts back to the low horizon. He sits leaning back on the brick wall of the grocery store, probably more out of convenience than comfort. Although he is tall, he walks with a slouch. His fingers are thick and calloused, his handshake soft and tender. He grips limply with the melancholy of a man who, like his community, has given up on himself.

I wonder how many years on the street it took to look like him. I wonder what he knows about our culture that I don’t. I wonder how painful it is to be here, one of the few, sparse homeless people in a suburban town. I wonder how often he thinks about ending his life and how often he is lonely. I wonder if he has a family and if they care about him or know if he’s still alive.

I give him the bag and say it isn’t much, but think inside that two bananas are better than fast food, and better than nothing.

I walk back and as I get into the car, I wonder if he sees the silver in my ring glimmer beneath my thick leather glove as I wave to him staring into nothing, and drive home.

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