Copyright is held by the author.
I GRITTED my teeth when I saw the homeless guy walking towards me. Every single person in the office wanted something from me today, and all I wanted was some peace and quiet and a goddamn drink.
The panhandlers always hang around Sparks Street at this time of day, waiting for suckers like me who work too late. Even from 20 feet away, I could sense how bad he smelled. He wore oily blue jeans with ripped pockets and no knees and an over-sized dirty grey winter jacket that looked ridiculous in the late summer heat.
I pursed my lips and walked faster, brushing past a pinstriped suit dragging a briefcase on wheels. I was close enough to the bar that I could practically yell my order to the mop-haired bartender on the patio, but there was no good way to get there without walking right past the homeless guy, whose arm was already stretching out towards me. My high-heeled pumps made angry staccato noises that matched the voices in my head. “Crap, crap, crap, crap…”
He looked up at me. His shoulders hunched and his eyebrows arched, his face full of expectation as he eyeballed my Italian leather satchel and fake Gucci handbag. Thick tufts of curly grey-black hair spilled out from under a frayed baseball cap, and tiny bits of something were stuck in his beard. As I got closer, he took a small step sideways to block my path. He opened his mouth to speak and I raised my hand to wave him off, but his Caribbean accent, with softly punctuated letters in a singsong lilt, disarmed me.
“No, no – I am not asking you for money,” he said. “Greet me!”
I stopped walking, confused. Up close, I could see that the bits of something in his beard were just grey hairs, and he actually smelled like cinnamon. The voices in my head wanted to tell him to fuck off, but my throat wouldn’t spit out the words.
His eyes twinkled as he raised his left hand up to his shoulder, his fingers tucked into a fist. I furrowed my brow. A smile danced across his lips, and he made a gentle punching motion with his hand to show me what he wanted — a fist bump.
I curled my own right hand into a loose fist and raised my arm to mirror his. We both paused briefly, then, as if on a count of three, we briefly touched our knuckles together.
“Greetings!” he said.
“Uh, greetings?” I replied, more like a question than a salutation. He beamed at me for a moment, then nodded his head goodbye. We both continued walking.
I caught myself in a smile as I slid into a chair on the patio.
“Greetings,” I said to the bartender.
I saw the homeless guy look over his shoulder. My eyes brightened and I waved. But he turned away, and a hollow sadness filled my stomach as I sat, alone, waiting for my goddamn drink.