I saw them take the body away. The stretcher was eased into the van, respectfully. It would have been nice for him to know that, in death, someone had been gentle with him. I spoke briefly with a bystander, concerned. I wanted to know if it was him, the young man who I gave spare loonies to, the young man who always asked politely for help, the young man who put his hand out for coins but mostly wanted kindness. I sat and watched them close the door. I waited as the ambulance pulled away. There were no sirens. The emergency, it seemed, was over. I panicked for just a moment, his crutch was left behind, the handle dirty from use. It looked, without him, lost. It looked like it was waiting for it's masters voice. Lonely. Something, if not someone, missed him already.
My power chair took over and drove me, senseless, into the mall, over to the elevator where I missed my floor, forgetting to get off. I found myself again and rode purposely to where I needed to be. I found Joe in the grocery store picking up potatoes and smiling over to me. I watched people busily going about their business. A young man, maybe 20, had died just a few feet away. It was unreasonable to think they knew, it was unreasonable to wish they did.
On the way home, the wind which had warmed us earlier, had turned cold. I thought of his young body lying somewhere. I thought of him covered with a sheet when all his life he'd needed a blanket. I wondered if I should feel some kind of guilt. I wondered what I should have felt guilty for ... I always spoke with him, I always gave him what change I had, I always wished him well, I always looked him in the eye.
I suppose there were things I never did. I never took him for a meal. I never engaged in real conversation. I never asked him how he came to sit on pavement and ask for money. I'm not sorry I didn't do those things. Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I don't think that's what he wanted from me. I think he only wanted a moments kindness, I think he could only bear our brief contact, I think he wanted little from me and more would have caused him pain, somehow.
His name, to me was, 'Hey, how you doing?' My name, to him was, 'Good to see you bud!' His hands were always dirty. His eyes were often dim. His presence was sometimes blurred. But he was simply always there. I never knew where he slept. I never saw him with another soul. I never ever heard a mean word from his lips. If the world had been cruel to him, we wasn't ever cruel back. I'd seen people almost spit at him as they turned down his plea for money, he'd simply say, 'Sorry to have been a bother.' He'd say it sincerely, without bitterness, without sarcasm.
I worried that his death would go unnoticed. His absence unremarkable in a city which moves quickly. But he had been gently loaded on to the ambulance. The men who had come for him had come to late, but they had come. And their touch had been gentle. It isn't much for me to hold on to, but it's something.
And it, oddly, gives me a great deal of peace.