For at least ten years, there has been a man I presume to be homeless who I encounter from time to time near the stores and strip malls that I go to. He has now become sunburned the color of tobacco juice, but I think that at one time his hair had been light brown. His eyes are still blue, when he looks up, which is seldom. And his face is, or had been once upon a time, intelligent. I have no idea what his story is, or who he really is underneath the despair and the weather damage.
Long ago, I began rolling up some dollar bills and tucking them into his clenched fist whenever I saw him. He has never acknowledged me, and we have never spoken. But I have watched him from afar get up and walk to a convenience store after I gave him some money, and purchase a gallon jug of water.
I don’t speak to him, not because I am afraid of him, but because I think he would run off like a wild rabbit or a feral kitten. Instead, it seems less intrusive — even less violent — to give him some money and then to exit his existence quietly. I can’t fix him, and I can’t comfort him. What I can do occasionally when I happen to see him is make sure that for one day he can access food and water if he so chooses.
The other night, I saw him in the shadows by the parking lot of a chain restaurant where I had just had supper with family members. He was almost invisible, but I saw him move, and I recognized him. I continued my conversation with my relatives, then moved slowly to where he was seated on the grass. It was so dark that nobody really noticed what I was doing. I located his fist, and slipped the customary roll of small bills into his hand. And just this once, his fist opened and he glanced down and spoke one word.