He has a big white beard. Thus ends his similarity to our dear Santa. He is skinny, way too skinny. His clothes need washing, twice, perhaps thrice. His shoes look too big for his feet, his fingers are stained a deep orange yellow. He stands just outside the east entrance to the mall near us. He sells 'OutReach' a newspaper that street people can sell instead of begging. Real work. He takes it seriously.
He took an automatic liking to Joe when we first moved in here. Often, before the advent of the power chair, if we needed something at the store Joe would run over by himself. It was easier. Joe always bought a copy of the paper from him. They'd chat briefly. He now recognizes me as Joe's 'buddy' and always nods a hello. Friendly guy.
On Friday I was heading up to the mall. I took off before Joe and wanted to see if I could make it to our rendez-vous point before Joe did. I have to go a lot further to get to the accessible entrance and then get down a set of elevators. Joe always beats me there. I put Henry (the power chair) in high gear and flew. I raced by him on the street saying a quick hello without slowing down.
Joe got there not much before me. He told me that the OutReach guy made a joke about me going hell bent for leather up the sidewalk. He was impressed with how fast the chair could go. On our way back Joe decided to take the short route. His feet were bothering him. Normally we both take the long route back together.
I came down the street and he was there smiling as I approached. He said, 'Your buddy said to watch out for you flying by again.' As he said this he reached out and put his hand on my arm. Natural like. Friendly like. I joked about the chair being out of breath by the time it got my fat ass home. He held on to my arm a moment while he laughed. He looked me, direct in the eye. I could see he needed contact. Social contact. Physical contact. So I stayed a few seconds more.
A woman walked briskly by us. Because of the position of the chair and because of where he stood in relation to the chair, she had to step around us. Her face looked horrified. She was looking at his hand on my arm. She was looking at me with fear. Like I'd become infected with poverty. With powerlessness. With parasites.
He wished me well. And it sounded genuine.
Like a blessing.
And I think it was.