I walked to work today.
I traveled my usual route, but today I decided to leave my car in the garage. My office is located less than a mile from my home, and so I should have been walking along, really. But in my defense…it’s cold outside and it’s not so easy to get out of bed on these dark winter mornings!
Today, though, I forced myself. Set my alarm for o’dark-thirty and only hit the snooze once. Made the coffee extra strong, and found my woolliest pair of socks to keep my feet warm. Then I stepped into my new walking boots, wrapped a fluffy scarf around my neck and over my face, and pulled on my fur lined gloves. Then I stepped out my door, and began my brisk walk to work.
I sauntered past the houses of my friends and neighbors, nodding at them as they climbed into their gas guzzling SUV’s, and happily refusing several offers for rides. No, I told them, smiling with my new-found superiority, I’m enjoying the exercise. Good for the body! Good for the earth!
Yes, I was feeling special by the time I rounded the final corner and stepped into the downtown working district. Others might shrink from braving the elements, but not me. I set my chin lower on my chest, and pulled my knitted cap down over my brow. I set my mind to ignoring the frosty wind as it slipped through the stitches, making my ears tingle from the cold.
It’s no big deal, I told myself. I’m tough. I can take it.
And then I saw him.
I’d seen him before, of course, driving down this same stretch of road, just as I made the turn into the parking garage. He sat there every morning, rain or shine, snow or wind. But I’d not ever looked at him before. He was part of the scenery, an older man, with a dour look on his face, and a sign propped up against the bench where he sat: Unemployed. Will work for cash or food.
As I stepped closer, I noticed that he wasn’t as old as I’d thought him to be. He was probably not much older than I, fifty maybe, but with a tired look around his eyes, and faint wrinkles around his lips that made him appear older than his years. His coat was torn under one arm, and his gloves were full of holes. He wore an old ball cap, too small to cover his ears, which were bright red and chapped from the raw wind.
He looked up then, and saw me looking at him, but his face remained impassive. I threw my glance on the sidewalk, and walked with faster steps. Would he talk to me? Should I talk to him? I had left my purse at home that day, not wanting to carry it with me on my journey. I had a ten dollar bill in my pocket – should I offer it to him? If I did, what would I do for lunch that day? Would he expect me to bring him money every day if I acknowledged him now?
All these thoughts and many more, ran through my mind, but still I did not lift my eyes from the pavement, and still I did not stop walking.
I walked past him, feeling less special now. I walked into my office building, rode the elevator to my floor, and walked past reception to my desk. As I passed the front window, I paused to look down on the street below. He was still there, his warm breath making a small cloud of vapor with every exhale.
I turned around then, and rode back down on the elevator. Pulled my gloves off, and then pulled the ten dollar bill from my pocket, debating. I could give him the gloves today, I thought, and keep my hands in my pockets on the way home. I put the money away again. Tomorrow, I promised myself, I’d bring some extra money tomorrow.
The elevator doors slid open and I stepped into the lobby. I walked across the shining tiles, and headed out the lobby door and back into the street. I headed up to the corner, nervous, and wondering what I should say.
But when I reached the corner, the bench was empty. I looked up the street one way, and then down the other. No sign of him.
Tomorrow, I promised myself. I’ll help him – tomorrow.