A boy handed me a piece of paper with a pack of tissues. He was relatively clean looking, sky blue shirt stained around the shoulders and blue jeans. He had a blue blue book bag to match. Navy blue Chucks on his feet and blonde blonde hair.
I stared at the note perfectly rectangle’d to be the same size of the pack of tissues. He wanted food or money. His mom was sick, he had no dad, no job and this was his means of survival. I could not register the full meaning of the note, partially because no homeless person ever handed me a pack of tissues with a message on it. It was truly a sincere gesture. I also was too hungry to process beyond the simple fact that he needed something. As soon as he handed me the note, I thought about the money I just used to buy the food on the side of me. The company money that I couldn’t spend was also in my pocket. The thought occurred to me that I could simply give him the Thai food I just bought and buy Thai from the restaurant near my home. As I gestured to give him the food, the man on my side asked for the begging mans attention.
“Hey. Do you work?” The man sittting asked.
“No,” the begging man shook his head.
“Where do you live?”
“I-no.” The beggar said, shaking his head.
“You don’t speak English? There’s a pharmacy on Jamaica that will hire you.”
The boy made a nervous gesture, acknowledging he was being spoken to but not really knowing how to respond. He refocused his attention to me.
My generosity left by that time.
While holding onto my bag of food, I shook my head and handed back the tissues, saying sorry.
Immediate guilt penetrated my bones and the pang in my stomach became a pang in my heart.
Why did I just do that?
He walked on to the next cart, carrying himself with such dignity.
I ran through thoughts in my head and questions I wanted to know the answer to. Where did he print those cards and why was he giving tissues with the paper and what language did he speak?
Was it even my place to know the answer to these questions?
I couldn’t help but feel selfish at that moment.
I put my head down and took a deep breath trying to put my pounding heart to the side so I could focus on getting home without falling down.
A simple gesture.
No one ever handed me tissues in exchange for anything.