I found myself getting off the familiar interstate exit, the one that led to the college. I needed a coffee and gas before I headed home. (Okay, I didn’t need the coffee, but it sounded good.) In my way of charting errands, trying to make sure I had as few left turns as possible, I went for the coffee first. Maybe I’d even take a trip around the college campus to see how the construction was going.
Focusing again on the road before me, I saw him. Sun-bleached messy hair. Eyes squinting from the sun, though clouds covered the sky. Maybe they winced in pain. The cardboard sign said “hungry” and something else — homeless? jobless? Did I just imagine the vest he was wearing looked like a combat vest?
The stoplight was still red. I had eaten most of the strawberries from the container of fruit I brought with me for my little trip, but there was still plenty of grapes, some orange wedges. Fumbling, I yanked off the lid and put the whole apple and orange into the container. Of course the light turned green then. Of course my window made a horrible buzzing noise in protest before it decided to go down. I managed to pull forward with traffic, but I paused for a moment.
“Here, you can have this,” was all I managed to say, holding the container out the window, trying to get his attention. He was probably used to being ignored. Maybe he was used to ignoring our ignorance.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” he replied after a quick double-glance, with a voice that conveyed more experience than I will ever have.
Through the intersection, I looked down and realized I hadn’t given him the lid to my recycled cottage cheese container that held his fruit. Would he need the lid? Could he use it for something else? Perhaps, but I knew more likely than not that I would never see him again. I knew for certain that he needed that fruit more than I did. I knew I had more at home in my fridge, waiting for me to feel like I might be hungry or seeking or wanting.
I felt the pain in my chest and the swell in my eyes that didn’t spill over. I drove around the campus and through downtown, making my way to the coffee shop and gas station before getting back on the interstate. I felt quiet, like the still character in the middle of constant motion.
I won’t know if the man ate the fruit, dumped it or gave it away. I can hope it nourished him in more ways than one. I wish I had said something better, given him blessings, told him I loved him, too, as a brother in this f***ed up world.
I had an individual-size bag of SunChips in my bag I had forgotten about, but I was glad I didn’t give him those. We who have to budget know that the processed food can be so much cheaper, easier. It’s not as healthy, though, not nearly as nourishing and nurturing. Later, as I munched on a few, I realized they didn’t taste all that great, either. No, it was better just to give the fruit.
Sweet. Fresh. Prepared. Available. I hope it gives him hope.
He may think I’m a crazy lady who carries fruit in her van. He might have thought I brought it just for him. Maybe I did and just didn’t know it.