By Jane Chin
Earlier this week I stopped by the drug store to get my husband some throat drops. He had been complaining of a sore throat and had taken a couple of sick days to stay home from work. I found what I was looking for, and lined up at the cashier. There were two lines and both were moving slowly. In my line there were two people ahead of me; the cashier was ringing up a third person at the register.
I didn’t pay attention to the people in front of me, but I did notice that the man whose turn was coming up at the register acted a bit strange: he swayed a little from side to side, as if he could not stand still, a sort of nervous jitter, and even as I could only see his back, I sensed that the man was not completely in the present. His hands were covered with dirty yellow-colored gloves, and he was wearing a dirty yellow jacket.
The cashier was an older woman, with shoulder-length gray hair, and wearing glasses. As she finished ringing up her customer, she announced loudly to us, “My register’s closed!” The tall guy in front of me moved over to the next line, and I followed him. The man in the yellow jacket stayed where he was. I couldn’t see his face.
I geared up for my turn at the register, then heard the woman at the other cashier yell loudly, “I said my register is closed!” We all looked over, and the man in the yellow jacket seemed to hover and sway at the older woman’s register, as if confused or unsure. I assumed he stood there for all that time because he wanted to buy something, but I would never find out. If he did not understand what her words meant, everyone understood what her tone and loudness meant. Next, we heard her say, “Get Out! And I don’t want to see you in my store again!” The man in the yellow jacket walked quickly out of the store.
Then we heard the woman at the cashier say to the man behind me, “Sir! I can help you here!” The man walked over and said, “I thought you were closed.” But she wasn’t. She talked to him about what just transpired, but I couldn’t hear what she said to him.
I finished paying and walked out to my car. I saw the man in the yellow jacket pulling his belongings in a trolley cart away from the drug store. I got to my car and put my bag on the seat. I closed the door and started walking toward the man in the yellow jacket. Fear had briefly crossed my mind, and I didn’t know if it was a good idea to accost someone who just got yelled at, especially when I wasn’t sure about his mental state. Still, I was determined.
When I got to where the man in the yellow jacket and finally saw his face, I was surprised. He looked fairly clean and – normal. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see, but pictures of homeless men crossed my mind, and I was creating an image from my past experiences.
“Sir,” I said to the man in the yellow jacket, “Are you hungry?” Giuliano’s Deli was a staircase away from where we were standing, and I was ready to head up and buy him a sandwich.
“No, I just ate,” said the man. Then he pulled something out of his yellow jacket and said, “In fact, here, take it.” He handed me a Hershey’s Chocolate Bar.
“Can I buy it from you?” I said.
“No, I want to give this to you.” He said.
“Sure I can’t buy it from you?” I said, accepting the bar. I was really confused.
“Yes, I really want you to have it.” He said.
“Thanks.” I said, and walked away, still feeling confused. I went to my car and as I drove away, I saw him pull his belongings out of the drug store parking lot. My mind became suspicious: “Did he steal this? Was that why that lady was yelling at him? Is this safe to eat?”
Later that evening, I told my husband about what happened. He asked me what I was going to do with the chocolate bar. I said I was going to keep it until I see another homeless man who may want to eat a chocolate bar. I left it on the kitchen counter, making up my mind to put it in my purse for such a future occasion. I also told my husband what how I felt when I heard the woman at the register yell at the man, and related my own story of fear of “someone different.”
When I was in eighth grade, there were retarded children at our public school, and one day, a big black kid named Ian suddenly ran up to my locker as I was getting my books. Although I had seen Ian on our bus and knew him to always be smiling and friendly, I was scared out of my wits at his running up to me. I ignored him, but he kept watching me and smiling. Out of fear, I yelled “Go Away!” at him, and he ran off. I was panicked, but as fear subsided, I felt embarrassed and ashamed at my behavior. I had never told anyone about this until now, and as I told my husband my memory, I relived my embarrassment and shame, and silently asked Ian to forgive my behavior.
Last night I was feeling snackish and was foraging our kitchen for snacks. My husband suggested that I eat the chocolate bar. I told him again what I intended with it.
My husband said, “You should eat it. He gave it to you as a gift. Give another homeless man something else to eat.” I didn’t eat it then, but it made me think.
This morning I felt like a snack. I went down to the kitchen and took the chocolate bar and unwrapped it. I closed my eyes and silently thanked the man for his gift and wished him well. Then I started crying, and I don’t know if it’s from sadness or gratitude or what.
I broke off a piece of chocolate and put it on my tongue and sweetness filled my mouth.