May 28, 2010
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He carries with him the unbearable weight of homelessness and the things that come with it; no friends, no family, no food, no shelter, no respect. I lean my elbows on the table, cookie crumbs digging into my elbows, and watch as he stumbles along the sidewalk. His arms are crossed over his stomach protectively and as the wind whips at his thin gray coat, I see the lining has been ripped out. Snow clings to this inadequate coat viciously and melts with a vengeance, despite the frosty temperature.

It is getting late, but I have nowhere to be and he has nowhere to go. So I watch, sipping my coffee casually. It isn’t frequently that I really take the chance to observe the nitty-gritty of Boston and now that I’m here I find it quite fascinating.

The man lowers himself to the ground, slowly at first, but before he’s halfway there he pitches forward in what is either drunkenness or exhaustion. I am beginning to wonder whether he has passed out and if it would be worth it to call an ambulance when he raises himself carefully. On his knees, he holds out a gloved hand to a passing couple, his bloody palm clearly visible. The boyfriend pulls his girl in tight and they step clear into the street to avoid him. It is as though they fear his destitution is contagious.

Rejected, the homeless man crawls towards the corner of the diner’s façade. His beanie cap is much too small and ripped on the top. Grimy blonde hair shoots through and he grips it tightly in his fingers, rocking back and forth slowly. His shoulders strain downward and forward in a way that made me believe the pain of Atlas could not compare with his.

I lift my mug to my mouth, but the coffee has barely touched my lips when I slam it on the table in disgust. Suddenly it is too sweet, heavy, and hot. I do not understand why, but I do not bother to question it either. I wipe the fog off the picture window and stare shamelessly at the man.

When he finally lifts his head, it is with great shock that I receive the revelation of his youth. The man- kid- cannot be any older than nineteen. There is only the slightest shade of stubble on his chin and his face is smooth, albeit dirty. I find myself staring at his hands, now lying uselessly in his lap. They are the hands of a man but awkward in comparison to the rest of him. I lean closer to the window yet and manage to see a few childish freckles buried under the grime of his face. I want to cry when I see how raw red his ears are with the cold and notice a fresh bruise laying comfortably on his jaw. I drag my stare to his eyes …

My breath hitches. They are dark and deep. They are indescribably sad, and yet I try desperately to give a name to their sorrow. I see trampled streets and fights over morsels. I see feet, glittering like cathedral windows, all embedded with glass. I see screaming bar owners and creeps with sick grins.

I also see memories, faded like the worn pages of a dearly loved book. I see happiness and laughter and love and a million other good feelings. These feelings are so strong that, despite their worn appearance, my own heart quakes for them. But it isn’t just that.

“They get to ya, don’t they?”

I jerk away from the window. An older redheaded waitress is sweeping cookie crumbs off the red laminate into her hand. She pours them onto my plate. I watch wordlessly. She wipes her hands on her apron tidily. “Sometimes I get to wondering their names. Worst thing to do, I think.”

I turn back to the window. The kid is still there, staring. Our eyes connect. With the force of a Mack truck, memories rush me. I remember an eighteen-year-old kid with neat, gold hair and bright intelligent eyes, standing in the doorway. He’s got a backpack slung over his shoulder. His father is warning him that he doesn’t want for his son to come crawling back a couple months later, crying about how hard life is. After all, it was his choice to leave. The kid nods solemnly and swears he would never do such a thing. He’s waited his whole life for this moment where he could prove himself and make his father proud. He leaves with solid hugs and promises to write. And he does write. Never frequently, but enough. The letters are always cheerful, though clearly rushed. His family is disappointed, but they take the slow letter flow as a sign that the boy has become a busy, hardworking man.

“More coffee?”

This time, I don’t look away. Quietly, I say, “His name is Zach.”

The waitress fumbles for words in her shock, something she is not used to. Finally she questions, “huh?”

“His name is Zach. Zachary,” I repeat, making my certainty clear.

“And you know that how, friend?” She asks, her skepticism evident.

“I know,” I say slowly, “Because he’s my brother.”

Before anything else can be said I am running through the door.
The kid backs up fearfully and I begin to bawl at the thought that I was wrong. I’ve started to run away blindly when a hoarse voice shouts, “Murphy!”

I stop dead in my tracks. His voice cracks painfully as he whispers, “Is that really you, Murph?”

“Oh, Zach, Zachary, Zach,” I sob, falling to my knees. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

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LastChapter said...
Dec. 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm
i liked this, but it was a little too wordy. well written, yes, and interesting? no doubt. but there was a little too much description. i understand this might be what you were aiming for:let the surroundings speak for themselves, but that can get a little boring after a couple paragraphs. you definitely had the element of surprise on your side though. his brother! what a great twist! god job, and please comment on my work:)
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