You will see him at the corner, by the side of the fruit and vegetable stand most days. He remains silent as he holds a torn, dirty paper cup for passersby to put their change in. His face slick with dirt, makes it difficult to tell his age or his ethnicity. His coat and pants are filthy, it’s impossible to make out their original colors.
I don’t know what made that day different, but on that morning I walked over to him. I held a five-dollar bill between two fingertips, focused on not touching the cup as I made my donation.
As I drew closer, I noticed his beautiful green eyes and could not help staring. I didn’t mean to smile at him, but I couldn’t help myself, those gorgeous green eyes seemed to twinkle in the sunlight. He stood up suddenly, surprising me for a moment.
It was too late for me to change my forward trajectory. My right hand connected with his left shoulder in not quite a punch, but more of a push. The five-dollar bill slipped from my fingers. I bent down to pick it up, not noticing he had also reached down. Our skulls collided with a startling clunk, causing both of us to stand straighten up and clutch the top of our heads. It was me who yelled ouch first, he joined in two seconds later as if we were a wailing duet.
We looked at each other a bit surprised, and laughed like two children who had just shared a silly joke. He smiled at me then, and through all the dirt and grime I saw him, a man who had done a lot of living and a lot of suffering.
I would like to tell you that the result of this encounter changed his circumstances. I would like to tell you that after our shared moment we became friends. I would like to, but I can’t because nothing changed. John still lives in the alley by the fruit and vegetable stand and continues to panhandle daily.
We exchange smiles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when I take the time to place a bill or two into his cup. I then continue on to the subway pretending everything is okay as I wait for my day to start, and my petty worries to overshadow the thoughts of a man, living out his life in an alley on the busy streets of Brooklyn.