I saw him from behind. On the sidewalk to my left as I approached the intersection with Peachtree Street. His bright purple sweatpants layered under black basketball shorts with red and white trim stopped at the ankle bones. I don’t remember what socks kind of socks he wore with the shiny white tennis shoes. He moseyed up the hill with the familiar gait of a homeless man; something between a swagger and shuffle.
The light turned red. I stopped. He started toward my car. I avoided eye contact. My window was cracked open a few inches to enjoy the pretty day. “Excuse me, could you help me?” He gestured for me to roll my window down more. I didn’t but gave him my attention. He was tall, relatively skinny. “I’m just a nice, 40 year old man. I used to live in [the nearby apartment complex].” His thick, straw like gray hair stuck out from beneath a gray beanie. His matching beard was full but seemed groomed. “Could you spare some change so I can maybe get a bowl of soup or something?” He rubbed his stomach and I noticed the muted red cable knit sweater flecked with pieces of lint fit snugly over a gray undershirt.
I turned around to the back seat (wonder if he was thinking I was about to pull a gun or pepper spray or something) and pulled out my last ‘homeless man bag’ left over from Nutcracker. I had been praying for the right person to give it to. The brown paper sack was stapled closed with a label that read, ‘your story matters’ in gray lettering with a little drawing of a typewriter. It was torn on the side from 3 of months sliding around the back of my Jeep. I opened the window a little further and stuck the bag through. “Is that milk?” he asked referring to the Special K protein shake peeking through the rip. “Yes sir” I said. He took the bag and started backing away from the car. “Well, you’re a very sweet, nice young lady. God bless you.” I smiled and rolled the window back up a little. “I’ll tell my daughter, Gretchen, about you.”
He walked back to the curb, I refocused on the light. It was still red. I watched him round the corner and a bush obscured him from sight. A few seconds later he reappeared from around the bush and waved with the shake in one hand and the cap in the other. I gave him a thumbs up. The light turned green. As I turned left I saw him tending a Walgreens bag on the covered MARTA bench.
I drove off. Thanking God for the opportunity. Wondering about this man’s story. Wondering about Gretchen. Marveling that I had one bag left. That the bag was within reach (for a while it was in the trunk). Thinking it was weird that I knew his daughter’s name but not his. Wondering what he thought about the bag. Wondering if I should have said anything else. Praying for Gretchen. Praying for him.
Pray for Gretchen.