The first time I saw him, he was digging ketchup out of a bottle with a knife. His hair was unkempt, his shoes badly scuffed with the sholes flopping off, his eyes wild and red-rimmed. It was raining and it was damp and the deluge sweft the ketchup clean off his knife the secong he wrenched it from the bottle, so that both ketchup and rain puddled underneath him in a gelatinous mess. Had I not seen a flash of white in my peripheral vision, I'd not have noticed him; my head would have remained down, snuggly ensconced within the protective bubble of my hood.
The rain pounded the hood and slid rapidly off it, like water off a duck's back, as I chanced a glance upward to observe the source of the flash. It was him, an old, filthy man holding an equally old and filthy butterknife, scraping at a bottle of Heinz Ketchup as if it were jarred salvation. I glanced away. The rain was smudging my mascara and I needed to get to work.
The raindrops were relentless as I sped by him, hustled onward by the crowd and the miserable, driving storm. He made no sound, no cry of "food!" no jingle of change in a cup--indeed, I wasn't certain if a change cup were even among his meager possessions--and my head remained down. To this day, I cannot identify the exact moment his view of me became the back of my hood, yet I know quite clearly the moment he faded from my eye.
It was when I needed to get to work.
And as I sat at my job, 54 stories above the man with the ketchup bottle, watching the raindrops meander down the glass that separated his world from mine, he haunted me. My knife as it buttered this morning's toast and how it made a clean swipe over the bread, leaving no trails of rust in its wake. My heels with the slight scuff on the left toe and how that had always irked me--they were my bad weather shoes, relegated to the back of the closet and nearly donated, despite being fully capable. My lunch--catered by the company--that I'd barely finished. The leftovers sitting on my desk. The simple fact of having a desk. The view from my desk.
The raindrops at the window. The glass that separated his world and mine. The scuff on my shoe. The soles falling off of his. The raindrops were relentless.
I needed to clear my head.
The raindrops drenched every inch of my skin as I stepped out of my bubble, and the world was damp and dark. The masses battered me as I swam against the current. He was a rock, languidly watching it all go by, slowly eroded by the current. I was a child, looking for a pebble to skip, a rock to wish upon before I set it into motion, rippling the water.
He was still there, like I knew he'd be, and I was not. I'd been left behind the glass in a high-rise on floor 54 with hair intact and makeup lightly applied and a designer handbag. I stood before him the child I once was.
I skipped the pebble.
I handed him the knife, clean and shining, and the lunch.
He smiled, "Thank you ma'am."
And the ocean rippled.