Thirty minutes isn't much time for lunch. Unless you're organized enough to pack something from home, which she isn't.
Walking quickly up the sidewalk toward the convenience store entrance, she sees a small, dirty figure of a man. He speaks quietly, but clearly, "Excuse me, ma'am...
could you spare something? A dollar or two for food?"
She stops and looks directly at his eyes. Not red or glassy, but definitely tired.
Most times she puts off these requests by saying she has no cash, and then just walks on. This time, she reaches into her purse and says, "Let me see what I have." Only a ten dollar bill and some piddly change. She sighs, takes out the bill, folds it and hands it to him. "Here ya go. Hope it helps some."
Before she can turn away, he says softly, "Thank you, ma'am. You're very kind."
She thinks to herself, "No, I'm not. And I have no idea why I'm doing this."
To him she says, "Take care." She watches him smile at her shyly.....or is it embarrassment?...... and slowly walk towards the fast-food place next door.
The summer heat and humidity is smothering today, but she notices that he is dressed in heavy, old jeans and what looks like a couple of long sleeved shirts.
His long, dark hair is flattened to his head with sweat. He walks hunched over, head down. More like a man in his late seventies, even though after seeing his face, this man couldn't be more than somewhere in his forties. She also notices that he is not carrying anything ....... no backpack, no duffle bag..... not even a garbage bag with whatever possessions he might still have.
She takes one step forward and calls to him, "Hey....wait!"
Walking cautiously towards each other, she asks him, "Where are you from?"
"Ohio, ma'am. Hope to get back there someday."
"Do you have anybody there? Family or friends?", she asks him, while asking herself, "What the hell are you doing??"
"So, you'd have someone to take you in for a while?"
"Coupla friends. Most of my family, what's left of them, gave up on me a while back."
"Do you know a phone number to get hold of your friends?"
He backs up a step. "I know the number that worked about six months ago."
Fumbling in her purse, she finally pulls out a plastic card.
"Listen, this is a phone card I bought for a stupid reason not too long ago. I don't need it. You go get something to eat and then call your friends. I have errands to run after work, but will you meet me back here at six o'clock?"
He just stares at her, not moving.
"Yeah, I know" she says, "..this isn't making much sense to me either. If your friends are still there for you, we'll work something out....... What town in Ohio
would you be heading to, anyway?"
"Okay..... so, meet me here at six.......and don't use up all the minutes on that card. You might need some for later."
She headed back to her car, already late for work, and wondering if she had enough change in her purse to get a soda from the machine in the employee lounge.
For the next three and a half hours her thoughts bounced around in her head like a pinball machine. Finally, she found a scrap of paper and began making a list:
shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, disposable razors, comb, vienna sausage, beef sticks, chips, crackers, cookies, water....... that was for WalMart. The next list was for Goodwill......some clothes and, hopefully, a small suitcase.
He was sitting at the end of the sidewalk, out of the sun, when she drove into the parking lot. She got out of the car and waved..... and then looked around self-consciously to see if anyone had noticed. He stood up as she got out of her car, but did not approach.
"Did you talk to your friends?"
"Yes, ma'am..... one of them. I told him I might call back later. Was that OK?"
"Definitely. I called the bus station. You can head out of here tomorrow morning if you still want."
"Yes, I still want......but, how much is the ticket going to cost? And.......I don't understand why....... why you're doing this."
"Don't worry about the ticket. And, as far as why I'm doing this....... I'm not sure I know either.......... Let's go get your ticket."
Being a tourist town in the Sunshine State, it had plenty of motels. After they left the bus station, she didn't have to drive far before pulling into the parking lot of a small one. She already rented the room and had the key, so she pulled in front of the room and turned off the engine. He didn't get out of the car immediately. He sat there, in the front seat, and stared at her.
"By the way, my name is Sam." he said.
"My name is Jane."
Neither of them moved to shake hands. They both got out of the car. She went to the back of the car to gather the packages from shopping. She handed him the key
to the room.
Once inside the room, she deposited the packages on the bed and turned on the air conditioning unit. He stood in the middle of the room, looking like he might bolt for the door.
"Okay, Sam....... this is my plan.....tell me what you think. I'm gonna go get us some sandwiches or something for dinner. While I'm gone, you can shower and then call your friend. Let him know what time you'll be getting off the bus in Akron. There are clean clothes in this bag and bathroom stuff in the other one.
Oh, ......is there something special you'd like to have for dinner?"
"I'm not picky, Jane. Anything is fine."
"I know, but is there something you haven't had in a long time that you'd really like?"
"Well........I haven't had a pizza in about a year."
"Great......pizza it is..... I'll be back in about an hour."
When she returned to the motel, the sun was setting. It was still hot and humid.
She hoped the a/c was working in the room.
He opened the door when she knocked. The a/c was working fine and he had the television on. She almost didn't recognize him. He was now clean-shaven and seemed to be standing straighter than before. She saw him smile for the first time.
And she smiled back.
She handed him the pizza and he smiled even wider. She also brought cigarettes, cold beer and two salads. They organized everything on the small table beside the bed and sat down opposite each other. That's when she noticed his eyes...... full of tears.
They ate slowly, without talking, for several minutes. Finally, he sat back in the chair and grinned and rubbed his stomach and let out a big sigh.
"There's more beer ya know, Sam. Don't let it get warm."
"Will you have another one with me, Jane? ....Please?"
"Sure. Thank you."
Their conversation began slowly. She asked him about his life before here. He began telling his story. He had had a life not really much different than many others. A stint in the military after high school. Two or three different jobs after that. Fell in love and got married. Got a job he really loved as a machinist in a factory. Life was good for a while. Then the bad stuff started piling up.
He said because he made good money, he and his wife spent good money. Their debt grew......and about the time they realized they were getting in too deep, his job changed. The economy took a nose-dive. His hours were cut back. He and his wife began having trouble keeping up with the bills, and they began arguing...... a lot. He started selling off some of the big toys..... jet skis, boat, and finally the '67 Mustang he spent three years rebuilding. It wasn't enough.
When he finally lost his job completely because the plant shut down, his wife left him. He put the house up for sale, but no one wanted to pay what was left on the loan.......let alone enough for any kind of profit. The bank finally foreclosed.
He moved back in with his parents and then his wife filed for divorce. Unemployment ran out and there were no job prospects in the area. He met a guy in a local bar who was getting ready to travel south. He invited Sam to come along...get a new start in a new place. Their first night in Florida, they celebrated by getting drunk on the beach. When Sam woke up in the motel room the next day, his new friend was gone. And so was all the money Sam had in the world.
The motel finally kicked him out when he couldn't pay the bill. He began living on the streets. He knew friends and family back home were having their own rough times, so he never considered going back or asking them for help. That was more than four years ago.
She asked him, "So, what makes you want to go back now?"
"This isn't home. It isn't where I want to be. And, no matter what I have to do to make a life back there, I'll do it. I just want to go home."
She stood up, took her keys out of her purse and said, "I need to get home and feed my critters and get some sleep. I'll take you to the bus station in the morning."
"Jane, if there is ever any way I can pay you back for all this............"
"No, Sam..........", she had to leave her words unfinished. The lump in her throat kept her from saying any more.
The next morning, through the motel room window, he saw her car pull up in front of the room. He picked up his backpack, dropped the key on the dresser and opened the door just as she was ready to knock. They smiled at each other and walked to her car.
They found the bus he needed to start his trip home. It was almost time to board.
Sam looked at her and asked, "You never did tell me why you are doing this."
Her voice was barely audible when she finally started to speak. He watched her face closely and saw her struggle to explain.
"Well, Sam....... I know what it feels like to be stuck in a place you don't want to be." Her chin started to quiver and her throat tightened. "I know what it feels like to be alone. I've been too stupid and too stubborn to do anything about me. But, for some reason that I can't begin to understand, I knew I had to do what I could for you. There may not be any sense to it, but that's all I know to say."
A harsh, nasal voice came through the speakers announcing the boarding of the bus. He put down his backpack and put his arms around this total stranger and
hugged her tighter than anyone he had ever hugged in his life. They stood clinging to each other until the final boarding announcement wedged them apart.
"Jane....... I hope you make it home someday too."
"Be well, Sam. Goodbye."
She did not turn to look back as she walked to the parking lot. When she finally found herself in her car, her face twisted in pain. Her whole body shook as her sobs echoed in her ears.