No one is asking what happened to all the homeless. No one cares, because it's easier to get on the subway and not be accosted. ~Richard Linklater
I would do anything for my Mother. That is how I became aware of the invisible man. Last July Mama got sick. Now Mama hates hospitals almost as much as I do and had never been admitted to one except for the times she was there to have babies. She doesn't count those eight times. This time though Mama wasn't going to come home with a bundle of joy. I wasn't sure Mama was going to come home at all. But for now she and her sick heart were upstairs under the attention of her other seven children and her first Non baby toting nurse. I was leaning against the ashtray outside. I was trying to get me a few more puffs in before I had to return to the sterile heart ward to guard my Mother through the night.
I watched him walk past me and then come back and ask for a light. I shared my lighter and small talk as he lit a half smoked cool and propped up there beside me near the ashtray stands. He wore jeans slung low on a skinny butt. Much too thin for my taste even had I been in the market for a man. His hair could have used a trim but wasn't unfashionably long. It appeared clean. He had a tattered gray backpack hanging from one Bony shoulder. His green eyes smiled as he stood laughing as I related to this stranger how the ambulance driver had scared me on the sixty mile ride from My Tiny town to this bigger, better equipped for sick people, City. He agreed that they could be scary behind the wheel. I was sure he was a Doctor or at the very least a medical student. He wished me luck as I turned to go back inside. I did look back once as I walked away. He was tucking something into the side pocket of his Backpack.
Morning finally came peaking through the clouds.. A light rain was falling as My sisters came quietly into the room. They were glad to take over the guarding of our mama and allow me to get some coffee and a smoke. I rode the elevator to the lobby amazed at the early morning bustle of the large City Hospital. Our own tiny hospital only a forth the size, if that, of the one where they had sent my Mama. Congestive heart failure meant Mama had to be moved. And I knew Mama wouldn't go alone. So I had come with her. I would do anything for my mama..She would do anything for me.
I followed my nose to the coffee shop once I reached the ground floor. Just as I went in I saw my stranger friend from the night before cut across the lobby. He was again carrying his back pack. On the way to learn more about Doctoring I thought Watching him hurry to catch the elevator.
I was glad to see others near the ashtrays this morning. I like people in general and like to listen as other people talk to each other. Some call me nosy. I just think I'm curious. I had found me a spot on a ledge near the stands and was enjoying the vacation planning of a couple near me when I first heard the angry yell. "Who took my coffee?' the man yelled looking around at the rest of us. No One answered as he continued to look around for his missing cup. I looked around too, now fully alert and on the look out for a thief with a coffee cup. I only saw the young man from last night as he turned the corner heading away from the pack of early smokers. Just as he turned his profile was turned to me and I saw him drinking from a large coffee. He almost seemed to be laughing as he hurried away into the parking garage. Something about him stuck with me as I walked back to the elevator. I didn't know what yet but I was nosy. I would figure it out.
The rains came hard and fast that afternoon as Mama slept a drugged sleep. I decided a cup of soup from the cafeteria would sooth me. As I walked down the hall towards the elevator I caught a glimpse of the young man again. He was hurrying away from the trash can; Near the snack machines in the Lobby; right beside the nurses station. He had His back pack off and was stuffing it with packages half full of crackers and some sandwiches that they had taken out of the machine earlier that day. Out of date food and two past their prime apples. It was then that I realized that the man I had thought was a doctor was Homeless. It broke my heart. He seemed to be totally invisible to everyone else there. I even for a second wondered if I had seen a ghost. But as he turned and smiled I knew he was really there. He commented on the storm and then said he had to go.. he walked along to the elevator with me. We got on and he pressed the Button to get off one floor down. I guess he was checking the lobby's on all the floors. Filling his pack. His version of buying groceries.
I stayed with Mama a whole week in the big Hospital. I spent a lot of my time watching her sleep or talking quietly with her when she was awake. I knitted things that I gave to the nurses who cared for her so sweetly and some doll dresses for my Granddaughter But mostly I worried about the invisible young man. I watched as he moved about the hospital unseen by anyone but me. He would take coffee from under the nose of people smoking outside and I even saw him walk past a table in the cafeteria once and after he passed the woman was looking all around on the floor for a banana. He could have taken some ones purse or wallet or other important things but he didn't. I watched him fill his cigarette pack from the ashtrays every morning and every night. Yet I never saw him ask for a cigarette. I felt as if I was as invisible while watching him as he was to the world that moved around the hospital. I wanted to offer him something. Maybe a meal or a few dollars but for some reason I felt that he would be embarrassed by my offer. I started buying a sandwich from the machine late at night and leaving it sitting on top of the trash can. Hoping he would find it still fresh for his breakfast. I left whole cigarettes for him in the ashtrays. I'd smoke one and leave one. I even put a clean Tee shirt in the lobby trash can and was pleased to see him wearing it the next morning.
It must be awful to be invisible out by the ashtrays. Where people plan extravagant dates and dinner parties and discuss new clothes and expensive pleasure trips. Never looking at the less fortunate ones around them.
I pray for my invisible friend every night now. Him and the many others like him. I pray that he has found a safe place to dream and a dream that will take him away from the streets!
Have a good night, remember to count your blessings; though they may seem to sometimes be few.