Sunday, June 20, 2010
An unexpected ray during my dark day
Sam's stomach was bothering him. It was probably from the sandwich that fortune allowed him to stumble upon after it had fallen out of a garbage sack while being poured into a dumpster behind the South Towne Mall. It wasn't spoilage that was hurting his gut--the food by some miracle was completely intact, and still warm when he picked it up. What had upset him was actually having substance inside him--eating wasn't something his body was completely used to.
A gurgle creeped out from beneath his coat to accompany the pain he was feeling. "I know. I know. I'm sorry!" he said aloud. "At least I'm still alive. We're lucky we've made it to see 2008. You try saying no to free food sometime! See how you like it."
People around Sam didn't pay him much notice as he continued to talk to his stomach at the end of the platform. He was obviously homeless, which meant he was probably half-crazy anyway. Sam didn't really notice them either. The business men in suits scowling at their phones, the punks scooting along with skateboards and sagging pants, the mother watching over her three young bundled children, the university students with their iPods and backpacks, and the fast food employee with the shifty eyes made up a group not unlike any other he'd waited with at the end of the line to go to Salt Lake. This was just part of his daily scene. Some people go to work, get a paycheck, and pay the gas bill to keep warm in the winter. Sam rode Trax.
After his stomach had heard enough, Sam leaned against a pole and gazed out at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley. It was a pretty scene to behold--the sun was setting, and the air was clear after the previous night's snowstorm. He could see the copper mine on the other side of the valley, and the funny looking building the mother had pointed out to her children as being the "temple" about halfway in between.
Thankfully, the faint sound of an electronic bell came through the air and the metal tracks at the station began to hum, signaling the awaiting passengers that a train was approaching. Sam knew that within seconds he'd have a warm place to sit down. He set his focus on a certain point on the tracks he predicted the train would stop upon--he was 4 for 5 that day with this little game he liked to play. The front of the train crawled past it, but the first set of doors landed directly before him, so he decided that would count.
Normally Sam was aware of those around him only enough to ensure that he didn't walk into or sit on someone. This meant lots of staring at the ground. The doors to the train opened, and Sam watched as lots of snow boots and various other shoes he didn't know the names of came on to the platform. Then came a break in the shoe parade, so Sam thought he was clear to ascend the stairs and get on the train. But before he could, a pair of red-plaid Converse's entered his view.
These shoes belonged to a 19 year old freshman student in her second semester at the University of Utah. She was on the tallish-end height-wise for her age and gender, even with her flat-bottomed shoes. Her hair was what some call curly, but she liked to describe as "tight-waved." On her back, she carried a bulging red backpack full of school books she knew she wouldn't read but decided to tote along anyway. Only a loose black pea coat and plaid felt scarf protected her from the cold.
This girl was running away from school like she did almost every week. Though she didn't much like being home, it was better than being alone in her dorm room. Alone--true or not, that was a word that she felt in more ways than just physical. She was having a hard time. Her best friend was miles and miles away. Though they did an excellent job of keeping in touch, things were changing, and just weren't the same anymore. The school she attended made her feel small and insignificant, especially since she was major-less. Her security blanket of friends from high school had been ripped off, and she felt unprepared for such exposure to real life.
This girl was also feeling a non-existant pressure from her society to be dating and pursuing marriage, as many girls her age in Utah do. It seemed that everyone around her was doing a fine job at this, except for her. This ill-conceived perception was only fortified each time one of her high school friends or associates changed their facebook status to "in a relationship." Some of them had even changed to engaged! And here she was never even having been on a real date. So, daily thoughts of wondering whether she was in someway defective began to creep into her mind. She was legitimately and unknowingly becoming depressed.
Sam looked up into the eyes of this girl with the plaid shoes as she exited the train. They seemed sad, and he expected them look away as if they had been offended by his homeless appearance. However, to his surprise, the ends of her lips curved up into a smile. It was contagious, and he grinned back as she passed. Suddenly, the pain of his stomach changed to that same feeling he got every time someone stopped and gave him money on the street, or put food on his plate at the homeless shelter. Before stepping aboard, he turned and called out,
The girl took a few steps, pretending that she hadn't heard him. It hadn't hurt to smile at the man, but she didn't want to risk a conversation in case he was going to ask for money. Not wanting to hurt his feelings though, and wondering whether she had dropped something forced her to turn around. Again, Sam was surprised. He wasn't sure why he had called out like that, and didn't know what to say. Then suddenly...
"You know? You're really pretty. If I were a younger man, I'd ask you out on a date."
The train was beeping at him to get out of the doorway so the doors could close, so he turned back to the stairs and climbed onto the train. At the far end, he noticed that his favorite handicapped seats with more leg-room were vacant, so he moved as quickly as possible to claim them as his.
The girl he'd just complimented stood stunned on the platform for a few seconds. She couldn't believe it! There was no way that man could have known that only a few minutes previous she'd been gazing out the train window, feeling quite worthless after a train-ride of comparing herself to her pretty friends and relatives. And yet, he, a homeless man, had the words she needed to hear in the moment that she needed it most. Before going on her way, she looked up with tears in her eyes at the sky and said to an unseen being,
"Coincidence or not, thank you."