I was returning from my lunch-time walk to the park and back when I saw a man ahead of me on the sidewalk; he was on the same side of the street, but about a block north of me. I could see that he was pushing some type of cart, but couldn’t make-out exactly what it was…and given that he was wearing a t-shirt and pants of that sturdy brown color used by a certain parcel delivery company, I allowed that he might have been pushing a hand-truck or dolly loaded with packages…except that there was no matching sturdy brown truck nearby. As I continued up the street and heading directly toward the man, I noticed that he kept walking back and forth on the sidewalk, first up the street I was on, and then back and forth on the street that ran perpendicular to the one I was on, the one that I would have to cross very soon as I made my way back to work.
While I was waiting for the various cars to pass in front of me and allow my clear and safe passage to the other side of the road, I was better able to see what the man was pushing ahead of him. It was a shopping cart, and not one that was over-loaded with belongings, not one that would reveal the more transient nature of his life, but one that contained a solitary “something” or other…just a single thing…and not many.
I made it to the other side of the street and continued on my northward march up the sidewalk, quickly gaining on the man and paying special attention to the fact that he had stopped and was looking back at me…or in my direction, anyway. As he stood there in his short-sleeved t-shirt in the 31 degree weather, evidently being warmed by something he carried within himself…maybe something flowing in his veins already at this almost early hour of the morning, I wondered what the question was going to be. He was already working on it, too, slowly loosening his lips and mouth, making empty motions and aligning the thoughts of words, the mental sounds of them, maybe, in preparation for my impending arrival at his side.
I was expecting to be asked about the change I had in my pocket and was a little surprised when the man said, “Excuse me, Brother…dhhhooo you know…you know where there’s a restaurant around here…here?”
In the several seconds that it took the man to prepare his words and manage to offer them to me, I noticed that his one hand didn’t stray from his shopping cart…the rickety four-wheeled device that he was using to carry his unceremoniously-opened 18-pack of Bud-lite…and nothing else. In those seconds, I also looked more directly at the man’s face and noticed that maybe I could have been his brother…after all, we were both men…and we must have each had a mother…so maybe….
Cars and assorted traffic passed behind and beside us as we questioned the day and wondered things in our separate minds in those fast and fleeting moments…as the man still stood there in his short-sleeved shirt with his long black hair tied loosely in a pony tail. His golden-brown face was flat and thickly fleshed and had deep lines extending from the outside corners of his eyes and mouth; his nose was also mostly golden brown, but reddish, too, and bulbous, and heavily veined with red and blue road-map capillaries that spoke of years of opened beers and other kinds of things. His black-brown eyes were glassy as they passed and twitched at mine with his stumbling words and wondering words and with his outstretched arm, and then, “Izzzzz it that pa-hink…is it that p-hink building over there?”
I did happen to know where there was a restaurant nearby, so I told the man no, that pink building was a set of old apartments…you need to go back down the sidewalk and turn right at the street in front of us and head that way for a couple blocks…the restaurant is called “Rico-something-or-other.”
“Oh…ok…thank you, Bhrother.”
There is a green house on the corner between here and somewhere else that appears to be a remnant from an earlier time; it is not alone, though, as its neighbors are similarly styled and worn. This house is of a faded green and has golden frames around the windows and doors and bears the same color along the roof trim and on its decorative and side-ways awning. The colors, faded and stark as they are, remind me of certain football uniforms from a high-school in my past. The boys who wore them were fast and young and full of new life and the house seems staid and tired, like a left-over, as I said, from an earlier time.
Around the front and side of the green house is a green and slatted fence, vertical boards of like hue and wear that hold a gate in their center grasp, a gate that is often left open to swing with the breeze or storm of a particular afternoon. I have passed this house and yard and fence innumerable times over the past year and then, and have only seen as occupant of the property, an oldish-looking gray tabby cat. I have seen this cat some several times, but have only seen him resting in the deep grass near a grated basement window. It was long grass, and green, too, with a richness that might shame the green of the house if an old coat of paint could feel such a thing. Anyway, the tabby usually lay there in the late morning or early afternoon sun with his eyes closed and his ears pivoting or twitching at the sounds of my passing on the nearby sidewalk.
It has been some while since I’ve seen the cat, though I walk or pass by the green house still frequently. I have not seen him there by the basement window with the gold and faded window arch of squared or molded brick; I’ve not seen him walking past the opened gate or curled up on the welcoming door mat as cats sometimes do, nor have I seen him sitting on the inside windowsill licking a paw or rubbing his ears as cats I have known have done.
When I passed that old green house today, on the corner between here and somewhere else, there was an old man with gray hair and green pants standing in the yard watering a skinny tree, a bush, or some other such living thing on this sometimey summer morning. He was a tall old man with long and wirey arms that were covered to a moderate degree with thinning old-man gray hair. As the tall old man stood there with the gray hair on his head and long arms, with a green hose in his hand, he was facing the sun with his eyes closed. I noticed that he didn’t open them as I passed, but slightly turned his head so he could better hear me in my passing.
I wonder if the tall old man used to be the oldish-looking gray tabby cat that I haven’t seen for so long…I do wonder so.