He was staring at me. Well, he could’ve also been staring at the book I was reading. “ISLAM: A Concise Introduction.” His sight was transfixed on me as his bloodshot eyes were bulging out of his head. As soon as we locked eyes, he looked away. He had piercing blue eyes and a sun-burnt white complexion. The unkempt condition of his clothes along with the huge duffel bag that accompanied him told me that this man was homeless. After our brief Mexican stare down, I went back to reading my book, but I couldn’t really focus due to the buzzing sounds and random utterances coming out of his mouth. Sounds that would be perfectly normal coming out of a 3-year-old. The whole 45-minute ride to work, I was trying not to make eye contact with him. I could feel his gaze on me and I’m sure he could feel my deliberate avoidance of it.
Once I had arrived at my destination, I realized that it was also his. I walked with my normal hectic and brisk gait towards my office and didn’t give the man a second thought. I never thought that I would see him again; a common Angeleno misconception. The idea that just because we cease to interact with somebody that they cease to exist. As if from nowhere, the man appeared to be in front of me, even though I thought I had left him in my wake. He was asking an older gentleman for some money with his palm outstretched expectantly facing up. I walked towards the man, his body-bag-sized duffel bag now acting as a backpack.
“Hey man, you got some change?” the man asked.
“No, sorry,” I replied patting my pant and coat pockets, giving him a sympathetic “I-would-if-I-could” smile. Like most people, I don’t carry around any cash. It’s clunky, cumbersome and it’s hard to keep track of. Once again, I walked away from this poor man.
I walked into a grocery store to buy some yogurt and during checkout I was asked by the card reader whether I wanted cash back or not. The little voice in my head reminded me of the man and my “I-would-if-I-could” excuse, so I pulled out $5, all in ones. As I was collecting my cash, I realized that the man was standing at the register right behind me. I didn’t just want to hand him the money right then and there, it seemed kind of crass. I simply went outside the store and waited for him to finish his transaction. When he finally emerged from within, I handed him three out of the $5. He took the money without flinching, as if I owed it to him. He didn’t even make eye contact.
“See, you didn’t have to be such an asshole about it,” the man said, still not making eye contact.
“God bless you, man. Take care,” I replied. I didn’t really care if he thought that I was an asshole or whether he thought I was talking about Allah or Yahweh or even Siva’s blessing. I simply wanted to do something nice for him.
“Alright, thanks,” the man mumbled. The way he said it felt more like “alright, thanks for the money, now get the fuck out of here.” I totally understood, the $3 that I had given him were not enough, he needed more. He needed to get on with his day and hustle. If he was curt it was only because he was broke. I knew where he was coming from because that was exactly where I was headed. To earn my $3.