He Said “Gary”

We were rolling up to an intersection in front of a bridge that would take us across the river, over the state line.

A man was standing, holding a sign, just inches from the edge of the road.  I couldn’t read the sign, it was small.  Later my husband told me it said “anything will help”.  Before we pulled up next to the man, he asked me if I had any cash.  I never carry cash.  I opened the console between us and there was a dollar bill, and a check someone gave me that I forgot to cash.

I handed my husband the dollar.  He pulled up to the man with the sign and handed him the dollar.  The man said “thank you”.

The light was red so we couldn’t move.

We sat there, close enough to him that he could have extended his hand into the car and tapped me on the nose.

How do you be that close to someone and not be connected?  He wasn’t looking at us.  But I was looking at him.

I said “what’s your name?”

He turned his head to me and said “what?”

I said “what’s your name?”  As I write that I hope it came out of me as I intended, curious and interested in him as a person.  Not demanding, as it sounds here.

He said “Gary”.  Then turned away from me.

I said “hi Gary.  I’m Colleen.”   He just looked at me.  With nothing else to say I suppose.

I thought I’d give it another try.  Though I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t want to say something that came out as offensive because I didn’t know what to say.  Full disclosure, I am very good at saying something stupid.  And there wasn’t a lot of time.  Red lights, though they often feel different, don’t last forever.

I said “are you doing any good today?”

He looked back at me again, eyes opened a bit wider, shocked, maybe.   And said “what?”

I said “are you having a good day?”   I didn’t mean to sound nosey or that I was asking him for his money count.  Shoot, maybe I did ask him in a way that made it sound like I was asking how much he collected.  But he said “I’ve got six dollars so far”.  I smiled and said “that’s good”.  He said “it’s not bad”.

The light changed.  I said goodbye.

I told my husband, as I thought about it, that I probably scared him.  I didn’t want him to think I wanted to take his money or make a nasty comment.  I’m sure he gets nasty comments.  And positive ones too.

I just wanted to see him.

I mean, see him beyond the sign, and where he was standing, and what he was doing.

I can still see him rubbing his eye.  See his pale eyebrows.

But I don’t know his story.

Red lights don’t give enough time for that.  As we drove further away I told my husband, “I’ll never know his story”.

And I won’t.