As the meeting broke up, Reggie and I stood by the conference room window, gazing down at the city.
Many stories below it was a typical weekday. Cars pushed down the avenue. People hurried to and fro along the sidewalk, scurried into and out of buildings.
“There he is again,” I remarked, pointing straight down. Moving past our front door was a homeless man.
At one time or another everybody in the office had encountered this homeless person. Every day the man shuffled along in front of our building, wearing the same shredded clothing, face lost in caveman hair. But today he carried an enormous teddy bear.
“He must’ve won it at the county fair last summer,” joked Reggie.
“Leave him alone,” Beverly chided, having gathered her laptop and folders. “You don’t know his story. He obviously has a mental condition.” She hurried out of the conference room.
“Obviously,” Reggie said to me and laughed. “Remember that woman who looked like a corpse who used to hang out at the bus stop screaming and shouting? Now that was one loony tune. I wonder what happened to her. Probably overdosed.
“Oh, check this out,” he continued enthusiastically. “A couple days ago I saw a guy steal a ladder. I was in line at the bank looking out the window when I saw some homeless guy grab a ladder leaning up against a building. Then he starts running off with it. Then here comes a security guard running after him!”
During lunch hour I had to go to the bank myself.
After dumping cold coffee I rode the elevator down to the lobby and stepped out onto the busy street.
With less than an hour I had to hurry. I had to walk five blocks to the bank, wait forever in line then return in time for the next meeting.
It appeared everyone else in the city had urgent business, too. People on a mission flooded down the concrete channels, careful not to collide.
They streamed smoothly along, like ball bearings that were magnetized, each repelling.
Thousands of paths intersected but seldom touched.
I crossed Fourth Avenue and turned a corner. And there he was half a block away, shuffling very slowly toward me. The homeless man. Carrying that enormous teddy bear.
The man was shambling along as if he were aimless and had no place to go. His face was hidden in hair. His two bare arms closely hugged the bear. With unseen eyes he seemed to stare straight ahead through every person that passed by.
I regarded the huge teddy bear and all of a sudden imagined the homeless man as a small child. In my mind I removed his beard, clipped his hair, erased grime and the cruelty of Time to picture him–try to imagine him as a very young child. And I wondered if, once upon a time, he’d been happy.
How could a child know he’d spend years of his life on the cold street?
As I drew near the man, a disturbing truth became evident. Contrasted with his very dirty arms and ruined clothes, the large teddy bear was clean and new. Where had he grabbed it?
The bear certainly didn’t belong to him. I wondered if there was a child somewhere in the city that was heartbroken.
The homeless man was in front of me. Pretending I didn’t see him, I veered to one side.
He blocked me.
“I found this on the street,” he said clearly, presenting me with the teddy bear. “Is it yours?”