The Secret Life of the Roadside Pauper
Ever been feeling especially generous and handed the man on the corner a couple of dollars, or in some cases, a beer? Now, isn’t that…
A short story
Ever been feeling especially generous and handed the man on the corner a couple of dollars, or in some cases, a beer? Now, isn’t that presumptuous!
Most of the time these pedestrians are greeted with averted eyes or a closed window. Maybe we busy ourselves with the radio dial or look at our cellphone to avoid eye-contact with the man flying a cardboard sign.
It’s only natural.
Who might that person be, and what have they done to stoop that low? Suppose they could be possible sex offenders, unable to get a job. Maybe they’re addicts, alcoholics, or just plain lazy?
Or, perhaps they are a practicing Brahmin, simply taking up alms. Maybe they are between jobs. Hell, maybe they’re rich!
The only thing we can say for sure, without really getting to know them, is that they are there for our charity. And why not? Sometimes people feel a need to be charitable. Even them. Perhaps, in some ways, we should thank them…
Or maybe that is going too far?
About a year ago I decided to start walking the two miles between my home and work. Every time I would pass by the same gray bearded, deeply tanned, old man. He would amble about ten to twenty feet from the intersection and back again, sometimes sitting on his overturned bucket and padding his forehead with a rag.
He was never forceful, never peering into windows, and never absent! Just always silent and composed. A bit stooped over for as tall as he was, maybe. He would only hold his small cardboard sign ‘anything helps’, amble up, back, and repeat.
Once, while passing, he offered me some pizza from a box that a delivery guy had gifted him. I declined. Another time he offered me a six pack of beer.
“You want this? I don’t drink,” he says, holding it up.
‘No thank you,” I say, “I don’t either.”
Then he stowed it behind his bucket; no doubt to offer the next guy.
I must have walked past this guy a hundred times and never offered a dime. Who’s more charitable?
Maybe, Jean was there because he liked to be? Maybe he was there because it reminded him of the journey it once took to be reunited with his family…
Jean’s son had been needlessly murdered back in the early 2000’s. When the life insurance ensured that his wife and special-needs son could live alone, he had started drinking again.
Only, he had been drinking with his dead son, up on Hill cemetery. His wife knew it was bad when he didn’t return one night from the graveyard.
She couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let it go, and he couldn’t understand how she could.
Eventually, he started just living there. Taking carnations down to the roadside and peddling them off to the passers by.
But, thing is, he contributed more than he took.
He began replacing the flowers with better ones. Straightening the decorations, cleaning the headstones, even mowing the plots with the 4 blade reel trimmer from the shed.
The owners caught wind, and instead of kicking him off the property they built him a groundskeeper’s quarters.
Not long after, his surviving son and wife moved up on the hill with him, and now they all live in the apartment together. All of them, including their late son.
Now, Jean still frequents the corner; People like him.
He flies a sign in full sobriety, because it brought him everything he ever wanted,
the intersection is on the way to the flower shop.
Jay Horne is an author and publisher out of Bradenton, Florida. He is a husband and father of four.
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