By Paul Rousseau
PROMPT — No one noticed ...
He is standing opposite a bus stop. He is bone-skinny, with sweat-wet hair, a scruffy beard, and tattered overalls more dirt than cloth. A crumpled cardboard sign rests in his right hand: Homeless. Hungry. Please help. A small, blood-stained handkerchief lies on the ground. It is empty, even at rush hour. I stroll over and drop a dollar. He turns toward me; we exchange nods. I notice his face. It is hollow and grimaced; he has seen suffering. The bus arrives. My head swivels between the man and the bus. I am transfixed; I decide to remain. I introduce myself and inquire of his name. No response. I lean close and ask again, louder. Still no response. I pat his shoulder, apologize if I intruded, and return to the bus stop. Another cluster of commuters gather, drinking lattes, scrolling phones, adjusting earbuds. They glimpse at the man but do not approach; he is seen but unseen. The contrast is stark; it is opulence and obscurity.
The next bus arrives. I amble aboard and plop in a seat fronting the man. Our eyes meet. He waves, I wave. I imagine his life before the streets. Someone must have held him, caressed him, kissed him, loved him. What tragedy brought him to the fringes of society? The loss of a job? The loss of family? Mental illness? Divorce? I glance at the commuters and heave a heavy breath. I wonder where he, and I, fit into an indifferent world that regards wealth and social status as measures of value, yet a world where we all teeter (whether we realize it or not) on the edge of homelessness.
Paul Rousseau (he/his/him) is a semi-retired physician, writer, lover of dogs, and occasional photographer published in sundry literary and medical journals. Paul's writing has been nominated for The Best Small Fictions anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. He writes from Mount Pleasant, SC. You can find Paul at: Twitter: @ScribbledCoffee