It’s 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night, and I’m at the grocery store to get cat food. I walk in and see a display of patio furniture with a man sitting in one of the chairs. He almost looks like part of the display, except for the fact that he’s slumped over with a brown bag in his hand.
He is apparently drunk and probably homeless. I keep walking toward the cat food aisle, but now I’m thinking about him, wondering how long he’s been there and how much longer he’ll stay asleep under that canopy before someone kicks him out.
As it turns out, it’s not long. By the time I get to the checkout line, two female employees — a teenager and a middle-aged woman — have confronted him. “Sir, you can’t be here,” says the middle-aged one. Without a word, he shuffles out of the store, brown bag in hand. I look at them, and they look at each other wordlessly, and then they walk back to wherever they were before.
I pay for my food and walk outside to see him standing on the sidewalk, slumped to one side. He is balding, with a ring of unruly grey hair around his head, and I wonder where he will go. As I walk across the parking lot, I think about my problems — the relationship trouble and the car trouble and the lack of a clear life purpose, problems that always seem so significant to me but now seem woefully insignificant compared to his. I start my car and briefly contemplate driving him somewhere, and as if reading my thoughts, he looks at me. Then I decide that probably wouldn’t be the safest move, and I drive away. I am always trying to save people, and perhaps this is not the person to save.
I turn onto the main road and look back at the sidewalk, but he has disappeared, as if he was never there. He couldn’t have gone far, but I can’t see him. Maybe it’s better that way.
I always wonder about the lives of the people I cross paths with — the bus drivers and bartenders and subway musicians. I wonder about their stories, their goals and dreams, where they’ve been and where they’re going. A patio furniture display in a grocery store is pretty ridiculous in and of itself, and it pained me to think that it was the most comfort that man had experienced all day. I wonder how he ended up alone and in that place. But he disappeared off the sidewalk when I wasn’t looking, and I’ll probably never know.