He stood on a street corner, the local KFC his theater backdrop, a worn and dirty “Help Needed” sign in his hands. The traffic lights supplied a captive audience of people in cars, and he shuffled back and forth, 15 feet south or west, as instructed by the lights’ color. Well, that and probably a substance dependency issue or a mental illness. Something had led him to this spot.
I kept my car windows up and my gaze angled enough to keep him in my line of vision without making direct eye contact. He wasn’t a very big or threatening man, just unkempt, his hair having a crazy, clown-like quality to it. As the light turned green and I sped off, I noticed that the soles of his boots flapped as he walked, as detached from the rest of his shoes as his soul from society.
“Everybody should have warm, dry feet,” I remembered Janie saying. Janie owned a local thrift shop where she gave away socks for free. I was only a few blocks away from her shop, and they sold men’s shoes there. Or I could keep driving. But if I went straight home, what would that say about my own soul?
I turned right at the next light, looped back around and swung into the KFC parking lot. Now my window was down. “What size are your feet?” I called out.
“Nine.” He hopped over decorative shrubs to get to my car. “Are you going to buy me shoes?” I told him that was my intention, and he wanted to know where I would be shopping and how long it would take for me to come back (I estimated 15 minutes in case I had to hit two thrift shops to find his size). “I should be here,” he said, after thoughtful consideration. “I might have gone to the bathroom, but then I’ll be back.”
Ten minutes later, back at his corner, I handed him a lightly used pair of Skechers. “Thanks,” he said. “Do you want to have lunch?”
“Aw, no, sorry, I have to get home.”
He was smoking a cigarette that he’d hand-rolled into some strange origami, and his teeth bore the stains of tobacco and tough breaks. “You’re my friend now. If you ever want to hang out, I’m here every day, usually between 10 and 12.”
I checked that the traffic light was still red so we could continue the conversation, and then, trying to ascertain if he was independent or ‘in the system,’ asked, “Do you live alone?”
“Oh, well, I’m doing a lot better these days,” he blustered. “The devil and his legion aren’t coming after me anymore.” His eyes widened as he said this, and he nodded his head, as if I had previous knowledge about Satan’s antics as they related to him and this was just my status update. “They were trying to get at me, you know, coming in everywhere and following me around.”
He’s delusional. This, I understand, I thought, and relaxed. “Okay, well I’m glad to hear you’re doing better. What’s your name, by the way?”
“No, no, that’s okay, really. They’re my gift to you. To start your weekend off right.”
“Really? Thanks! You’re my friend, so you’re protected from everything.” He took a couple of steps back until he was on the sidewalk again. “Are they lace-ups?”
“Yup, they’re lace-ups. Will that work for you?”
“Oh yeah, that’ll work. I just have to bend down more.”
I couldn’t suppress my smile. “Okay, good.” The light turned green. I put my car into gear and waved as I set off.
Everybody should have warm, dry feet.