The street was the same as it was every day, except, of course, for the rain, lending a particular gray shimmer to the sidewalks.
That was the only good thing about the rain. That, she thought, and the way it always made the trees look greener. She wasn’t inclined to think too kindly of the rain, especially since it was presently soaking through the soles of her sneakers.
Every day, she walked down the same street, stopped by the same café and bought the same coffee to drink on the bus on the way to work. She imagined that warm cup would be particularly comforting in the cold rain.
Every day was the same. Right down to the homeless man on the corner. She supposed this was his corner; his turf, so to speak.
She’d always, somewhat guiltily ignored him, not even acknowledging his presence, stepping around him on the sidewalk, like he was furniture, or worse.
Unbidden, something she’d read earlier popped into her head…. What was it exactly? She tried to unscramble the words, like a strange word puzzle in her mind. She couldn’t remember, but the words hovered at the back of her mind, like an itch she couldn’t scratch.
Finally, she pulled the magazine out of her bag and flipped through it like a maniac to find the quote. Ah, there…
“No one can give money to everyone who asks. But when you come upon one of your species who is struggling, you need to let him know that you see him. Look into his eyes and let him look into yours.”*
There it was. The simply dignity of acknowledgement. Which she hadn’t been doing. At all. Generally speaking, she’d thought it was a better idea to avoid eye contact. You were less likely to be hit up for money, or time, or a signature. You were less likely to be chased down the street by someone who was incensed because you wouldn’t give them any change.
But maybe she was wrong?
The man on the street always sat there, quietly. He’d never directly asked for anything. And now, he sat, quiet and docile and sad, in the rain.
She supposed she could do better than simple acknowledgement. A rainy day seemed like a perfect day, designed for small kindnesses.
When she was getting her own latte, she also ordered a small coffee. On her way out, she grabbed a fistful of mini-creamers and sugar packets.
When she presented the coffee to the man, sitting in a puddle of gray cloth on the street, she expected him to take it.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s coffee,” she replied. “For you…. I thought it’d be nice to have something to keep you warm.”
She pasted a bright smile on her face and presented the cup again.
He eyed her drink, which she held in her other hand.
“You couldn’t have gotten me a latte?”
“I…. I don’t know.”
“I mean, you got yourself a latte.”
“That’s because I …. Like lattes?”
She hated the way her voice curled up at the end, turning into a squeak.
The man glared at her.
“And I don’t like lattes,” he said, somehow managing to make the words accusatory. “Because I’m not like you, of course I’m not entitled to a latte.”
“I just…. I’m sorry?”
Again, the squeak. She hated the squeak.
With a glare, he finally grabbed the coffee out of her hand.
“Is it at least decaf?” he asked.
“No… it’s regular.”
“Regular? You trying to kill me?”
“No… I just… I …. I gotta go.”
Behind her, she heard the shuffle and clank of the bus, the fuss of people getting on. Grateful, she walked away as fast as her feet could carry her, mounting the steps of the bus as though her feet were on fire, with mutterings about inconsiderate young people and high blood pressure trailing behind her.
It is true, reader, that kindness is important in this world, and that small kindnesses can make a great deal of difference.
It is also true, as she learned that day, that you should not believe everything that you read.
*Elizabeth Berg, as quoted in the most recent Reader’s Digest. Or at least the most recent Reader’s Digest as found at my local Jewel the other day.
POV – third person (limited) / Homeless person / coffee
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