Strangers

"homeless - please help" sign

He is a blind man in his late forties, homeless and disheveled, a pest to society and even the sidewalk that houses him. He has been sitting in this alley on and off for twenty years. It is a narrow place that was accidentally created when a builder underestimated the space between two buildings. On good days, he runs a comb through his hair and freshens up with the AXE deodorant he found in the trash awhile ago, and then begins his begging routine. On bad days, he curses the world and his existence before setting out a cup and a sign and curling back into a ball under a ragged blanket. He is a pained man, an unwanted one, stuck with a soul with no place to call home.

She is a pretty NYU student who lives at 23 14th Street, between 5th and 6th. She has shoulder-length straight brown hair, wears cute hats, and walks lightly like the sidewalks of New York City are heaven-paved. She shows promise in her studies and is considered one of the best in her classes. A very normal girl who has her share of good friends and a happy status as most charitable in her sorority.

He heard from a passers-by that there is to be an event tomorrow where free vegetables will be given out to people like him. It will happen in a side street by Union Square. She will volunteer for it. He thinks it will be an impossible feat to make it there. She thinks it will be a strenuous six hours, and she has finals to study for.

He put on deodorant today and combed his long, mangled hair carefully. She smoothed the winter snood on top of her head. He reviewed the mental map he kept of Union Square and the surrounding neighborhood. She grabbed her phone and ran out the door. He picked up his blanket and started pushing his heavy cart. She reached into her purse to make sure she had her keys. He took a step, and then another. She was late and was running now.

He had only taken thirty-one steps when he ran over someone’s foot. “Crazy man!” someone shouted next to his ear. “Get out of the way!” He powered on. Another busy person bumped into him. A kid on a skateboard lost his footing and his board flew into the man’s legs.

He was crumbling beneath those dirty clothes. Would he ever make it?

She was checking her phone with her head down when she ran straight into his side. Her snood fell off and he blew up. “Stupid bitch!” he screamed. Together they were there with hearts racing and fists at sides.

She didn’t even see him. She felt on top her head and saw that people were staring. Her covering was gone and the whole world saw her embarrassment, the severe alopecia she suffered from.

He was done and ready to crawl back into his alley.

She saw what was on the ground in front of her and was disgusted. Damp-smelling, brown stains and an air of angry frustration in a pile.

But, somehow, in their joint vulnerability and upon her realization that he was blind, her heart softened and she apologized profusely. She helped him up, despite the unwashed smell, and didn’t bother to pick up her hat.

The public watched as the unlikely pair made their way down the street. Both going to the same place, although neither knew it yet. After today, she will stop by every Tuesday and Friday, bringing fresh vegetables to him and giving him some of her time. He will tell her stories. He will disappear at 1am on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, but she won’t find out until 4pm on Friday.

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