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The Man MAG
The man lay on the cold stone step with his useless leg and dirty cast resting in front of him. His one crutch, broken and too short, lay by his side. He looked strangely peaceful, as if he had no cares or worries. Night was coming and he waited for darkness to settle over the city. Pulling his thread-bare blanket around him, he stretched his good leg out on the narrow step. He looked through the locked door wistfully, probably wishing he could sleep the night in warmth for once. Then he sighed, as if realizing that that was too much to hope for.
It was dark and he lay his unkempt head of hair on the cold stone step. After a few seconds, he lifted his head and slid a precious corner of blanket under it to shield it from the bare step. He closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to come and deliver him from the cold world. Uncomfortable, he tried to wiggle into a warmer, cozier position on his narrow stone bed. After stirring a few more times, and almost rolling off the step, he seemed to relax and settle into slumber.
* * *
I was only about six, so you can imagine how excited I was about driving to downtown Boston to meet my father at his office. The family would then eat out and visit the Science Museum. I always looked forward to the annual trip, even though the traffic and buildings scared me.
"Brad, get your coat and get in the car to go meet Daddy!" my mother called, jolting me out of my daydreams.
"Mommy, will we get to go in Daddy's building and see his office?" I asked hopefully, for I loved to try out his electric typewriter.
"Maybe," replied my mother. "If we have enough time."
"How 'bout the elevator?" I cried, thinking of the thrilling ride up to my father's 25th floor office.
"Yes, if Daddy is still in his office," my mother said.
"Goody!" I yelled and as the car began to move I studied the fake leather on the seat, tracing the pattern with a finger. Again, I thought of the sights, sounds, smells, and excitement of the city. Normally I hated to get stuck in traffic, but in Boston I almost wished for traffic so I could take it all in.
I loved to stare at the people in the tollbooths. Their green costumes fascinated me and sometimes if I stared hard enough I would get some reaction out of them.
During the rest of the ride I occupied my time watching the yellow lines and metal fences fly by, staring at people in other cars, trying to get truck drivers to beep, and best of all, bugging Susannah. The ride went quickly and it wasn't long before I spotted the first tall building on the horizon. It shimmered blue in the distance, like a large mountain except for the rectangular shape.
"Hey Mom, is that Daddy's building over there?" I yelled, jumping up in the car so high that I betrayed the fact that I had no seatbelt on.
"No, that is not Daddy's building," my mother replied, "and get into your seatbelt like I told you to!"
"I was, Mom, I was," I replied.
I put the thing across my stomach and felt it tighten on my guts. Although I couldn't stand it, I didn't want to risk another attempt. However, in a minute, more buildings came in sight and I forgot all about my seatbelt blues.
"Is that Daddy's building?" I asked hopefully.
"No Brad, we have to go through the tunnel first," came the reply.
"Yahoo!" I whooped. "We get to go through the tunnel!" I had forgotten all about the big Prudential tunnel. I loved going through the mile -long stretch of pitch blackness.
I kept asking about my father's building until my mother told me she would show it to me the minute she saw it. We were stuck in traffic and my mother was fuming, saying that we were late. I saw a building with pink-gray granite sides elaborately polished with windows and warm lights from inside. It was a handsome building. My gaze drifted away, but as the traffic moved forward I faced the building. On the steps I could make out a figure huddled against the cold.
As the traffic jam broke up and the car pulled away I craned my neck to have a last look at the horribly sad sight. My eyes had been riveted on the man with the crutch for the minute or so we had been there. I had tried to look away but I just couldn't. I had not been in the city too often and had never seen such poverty-stricken people. The vivid image stayed with me all that night, strangely subduing me.
I sat in the back, staring hard at the driver's seat in front of me, deep in thought. The more I tried to push the awful image out of my mind, the worse it became.
I had completely forgotten my father's building and when my mother pointed it out to me I looked once and thought of that poor man that didn't even have a bed to sleep in.
When we came to the building and my mother announced that we had enough time to visit my father's office I didn't even enjoy the elevator ride. That vivid picture kept haunting me. I even declined a chance to try the electric typewriter on the tall desk. I didn't bother to ask for a ride on the swivel chair, for I knew I couldn't enjoy it.
I couldn't think of anything but that man on the marble steps. At the restaurant the food stuck in my throat when I thought that the unknown man probably hadn't had dinner at all.
Later at the Boston Museum of Science the only thing that interested me was a collection box marked FEED AND CLOTHE THE POOR. If I had had one hundred dollars, I would have dropped it in.
* * *
When I saw the man with the broken leg and no proper place to sleep, I began to realize just how lucky I am and even to feel guilty about it. I was young and ignorant of such things. I had never known that some people don't have a house and don't have a meal placed in front of them three times a day.
The shocking image of that homeless, dirty, skinny and unfed man still comes to me whenever I see a street person. I think of him when ever I see a charity collection box and remember how lucky I really am. n