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I see his type often. Dirt engraved in their fingertips, hunger poisoning their needs, eyes hollow except for a lone glimmer of hope. The ones we must forget. The ones we have to ignore. The rejects.
My family stalks past, glancing at him but hardly so much as pausing. He lifts a trembling hand at my approach, eyes glass. Hands burrowed in pockets and feet frozen to the ground, something in his stare makes me pause.
“Please,” he breathes, “Do you have any change?”
Mind jumping to the coins in my pocket, I freeze. As I press them into my palm, they jingle together like beacons.
My family glances back at me. I know they are thinking that I shouldn’t help this man, because who knows what he might use the money for. Food is only one of a hundred possibilities.
One hesitant step away. My feet, like a groping wave clawing at the shore, are reluctant to go. Even though the man stares me down with a gaze of stone, the spark of hope wavers.
Two steps. A turmoil seeps into my skin, tingling to do something, anything, but this. My eyes swell with tears as it burrows into my soul, but I don’t stop.
His smile crumbles, mouth unhinged. Only the skeletal remains of an abandoned lifetime crouch past its darkness. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Three. A weight presses down on my lungs, mind screaming in retaliation to each footstep I take, but I forge my way on. There’s nothing else to do. I already made my choice, even though with every movement my mind screams in retaliation.
He’s out of sight in only a few more moments. I expect the claustrophobia clenching my throat to extinguish, but it instead melts into lava in my heart. My family nods along, insisting that he was a complete stranger and not to be trusted. Telling me everything I already know, but don’t truly believe.
“It was common sense,” they lament.
I nod along and pretend everything is alright, but my skin feels nothing, eyes caught in the remembrance of the man’s flickering gaze.
My heart whimpers, drowning in possibilities I should have lunged for with everything I had. The ones that wouldn’t leave me feeling like a traitor to humanity or a snob, but would have made me feel human. Vulnerable and forgiving and all the things that have nothing to do with common sense, but make living worth something.
The sun breathes down my neck as I walk, but inside there is only ice.