The following story is an entry to a competitin found here.
I was on my way home from my friend's place after a night of board games. The sky was clear and the temperatures high. I put my earphones in and decided to take a little detour. I took a left turn and just as I finished crossing the bridge, I saw him.
There was a man lying on a park bench about 15 metres from the road. I brushed it off as him being another one of those drunks that pass out wherever they pass out. But as I continued down the path, I caught myself thinking. There's nothing around here. No bars, no houses, ... No place to get any liquor. So I told myself: «What have I got to lose?« and made a U-turn.
The man was awake and when he saw me walking in his direction sat up straight. As I was getting closer and closer, I realised I had no idea what to say so I went with the first thing that came to mind.
"Want a cigarette?"
"I don't smoke, but thank you very much."
"Good. 'Cause honestly, I don't even have one. I don't smoke either. I just needed to break the ice somehow."
We both chuckled.
I extended my arm towards the bench.
"Mind if I sit beside you?"
Having sat down, I offered my hand to the man.
"I'm Matt, by the way."
"Paul. Nice to meet you."
"So what bring you here?"
I was happy he started the conversation. I started telling him about my evening playing board games and got so carried away I just about gave the man my CV. He had this smile on his face that just kept on growing the more I talked. He seemed genuinely interested and happy for me. After I was finally out of breath, I asked him to tell me something about himself.
"There's not much to tell, Matt."
The smile on his face turned into a frown as he looked at the floor. "Besides, I don't want to trouble you with my problems."
The words came pouring out of his mouth, ... As did tears from his eyes.
He used to work in a car factory down the street. It wasn't a high paying job, but it was a job he didn't hate. He was married to a woman named Ruth. They had just moved into a new apartment and were in high debts for it. Though the money was scarce and they were forced to buy offbrand, they never lacked anything essential. They were happy.
But a drunk driver took Ruth away from him. He slammed right into her on her way home and she was dead in an instant. Paul's life completely shattered that day and he entered a stage of grieving. The factory granted him a fortnight to mourne in peace. He spent the last of his money on her funeral.
The work at the factory required him to be focused for 8 hours straight. He couldn't even stay focused for five minutes. So they fired him.
Without a source of income, he couldn't pay for the apartment anymore, so the bank took it. With nowhere to stay, he couldn't get another job. It was always required to state the address of residency. He had none.
The man had nothing.
No money. No food. No place nor will to live.
Instead of just giving him $10 I had in my pocket, I suggested we grab something to eat together. Spend some more time with the man. He picked up his backpack and we made our way back to the city. I didn't want to stain his empty stomach with fast food but at this hour, there was no other choice.
We discussed all sorts of things over the meal and I could tell he was overjoyed to have company. He confirmed my observation stating the worst thing about being homeless is being completely alieanted. He could take living in the streets and eating leftovers. But he couldn't bare the look of disgust in people's eyes. Being broke and homeless, he was seen as a lesser human being. Nobody cared about him. Nobody cared to listen to his story. Nobody cared enough to even look at him.
Part because I felt sorry for him, and part because I genuinely enjoyed our conversation, I concluded to see him every day after work and get lunch with him. He shed a tear when I shared this idea with him. The smile on his face I saw earlier that night had returned. I knew I made the right choice.
We changed the fast food joint for a restaurant serving local cuisine. We also changed the topics of our conversations. He was very interested in chemistry and physics; and being a chemist myself, I enjoyed sharing my knowledge. It was hard to explain something without a proper example or experiment but I tried my best. He, on the other hand, provided me with a lot of interesting information about living in the streets and just life in general. He told me he had a lot of time to think about life. So he did. He was, indeed, very wise in that department. He was also quite a handy-man, and he showed me the graveyard of all the figurines he had carved out of wood. I looked forward to spending time with him every day. He had this different perspective on life.
I noticed how with every meeting his eyes shone a bit brighter and his smile grew a bit wider. He was no longer the same person I had met not long ago. He was at times even more optimistic than myself!
One day I invited him over for a home cooked meal. I was living alone at the time and sure could use some company. Having spent so much time with Paul and knowing him aswell as I did, I offered him a shower and some fresh clothes. It was like offering a piece of candy to a 5 year old child. Seeing Paul cry with joy was one of the most heartwarming feelings I have ever felt. Knowing I could give something so little to someone and have it mean the world to them was nothing short of breathtaking.
I thought long and hard about this while he was under shower, but then finally decided.
I offered him to stay the night.
Paul fell to his knees and burst into tears before I even managed to finish the sentence.
"I... I can't. This is too much. I can't accept this."
"Oh, that's nothing. Guess who's got a job interview tomorrow morning? You better go get shaved, mister."
He hugged me tighter than I've ever been hugged in my life.
Paul has moved in with me and got a well paid job as a technician. I am happy to say he's now my best friend and the best roommate I could ever wish for. It hurts to think he's soon going to move out. It's funny when he occasionaly pays for my lunch now, but I'm getting used to it. My friends also accepted him well and we spend a lot of time with them also. We even went on some double dates together. He's one of the happiest and most ambitious people I know.
Who knows what would have happened if I just handed him the $10 that day instead of spending time with him.