I stood at the intersection waiting for the walk light. The man stood to my left, facing the highway off ramp. His back was to me but I could see he held a cardboard sign in his hands. He wore a corduroy jacket, worn at the elbows with the seams coming out and a black hat. I did not see his face, but his hands appeared unwashed as did the hair that poked out from beneath his cap. At his feet lay a brown dog and a dirty green backpack that appeared to be packed full.
As cars whizzed past us on their way to downtown Portland a few
slowed long enough to yell at the man through their open windows...
”Get a fuckin' job asshole...”
One swerved as he made the extra effort
to reach across the passenger seat to flip the bird at the man. With
his middle finger pressed against the passenger window he bumped the
curb before speeding on his way.
As I waited, I heard footsteps
approaching from behind, an uneven shuffling gait. A voice, a bit
gravely with a familiar New England accent, “Bruthah...hey
The footsteps shuffled past me and I
saw that the voice belonged to an older man, with slate gray hair and
a stubbly beard. He posture was bent and his flannel jacket many
sizes too big. As he passed I caught the strong scent of stale body
odor. He stepped closer to the man with the sign and tapped him on
The man with the sign turned. The
older man reached out and took the sign man's hand turning it palm up
and I heard the unmistakable clink and jingle of change. The coins
filled the younger man's hand and a few spilled on the ground.
“Here ya go bruthah. I ate at the
kitchen today and they gave me dinnah in a bag,” he paused to
straighten up and pat his bulging jacket pocket, “So I don't need
this today. It's all yours bruthah.”
The older man patted the younger man on
the shoulder then turned and started back the way he came. The light
changed and I crossed the street continuing my journey to school.