I’m sitting at the counter in the “Good Food Café” down on Franklin Street having a cup of coffee. Besides good food, the “Good Food” is known for Community Coffee from Louisiana, strong, black, and hair-raising. I stop here from time to time just to drink a cup in their heavy white mugs. Who needs “Starbucks” at twice the price?
I notice a man comes in with a tear in his pants and dirty shirt and takes a booth at the back of the diner. He’s by himself, in fact, no one comes near him except the waitress. In fact, no one sits near him. I suspect, based on how he looks, it’s because he probably doesn’t smell so good. The lines in his face indicate a life that was not well spent. Sadness seems to cover him. The eyes may be dimming, but still hold on to a past of highs and lows. There are stories to hear if one can get past the sadness and the wall that protects him.
He’s ordered a breakfast consisting of two fried eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit. Instead of coffee, however, he’s drinking a beer, a Budweiser to be exact. As the day is several hours old, he takes a draw on the long neck before addressing his breakfast–kind of like offering a blessing before a meal. He must need that hit of alcohol before he eats.
As he swallows the first bite of bacon and egg, yellow runs down the side of his mouth and falls on his shirt. No matter, the yellow blends in with the other evidence of his life that’s glued to his shirt. I want to engage him, but I am not sure how to do it, so I wait until he finishes eating and gets up to leave.
As he stands in line to pay, I fall in behind him and conger up the courage to speak. “Morning, sir. Nice day.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“I noticed that you walked up to the diner this morning and didn’t seem to have transportation. Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
He responded, “No, I live just a few doors down the street. I’m fine.”
I follow him out and watch him shuffle along the sidewalk, walking slowly, steadying himself with his cane. His joints are worn. Balance seems lacking. He has no confidence in his gait. The years have taken their toll. Has his life experience led him to this place? Is this his destiny?
His pace picks up as he approaches his home. Renewed energy and determined effort push him on. Suddenly—he falls! He cannot get up. He moans with pain and fear. I step out of the shadow and go to his aid. I speak words of comfort as I lift him up. “Hey, ol’ fella. You okay?”
“No, no, just leave me alone. I’ll make it.”
He is embarrassed. He wants to cry in pain and despair, but his pride will not allow it. Mental strength is his. He will not show weakness. He only takes what assistance is necessary. Blood runs down his cheek and arm. I get him to the door of his house. He does not thank me. He wants to be free of me. I am the crutch he fights and does not want. He goes in the house, leaving me behind. I am not invited in.
I cross the street towards my car. I call 911 and report what has happened. Soon, I hear sirens. EMS personnel enter the house and quickly bring him out on a stretcher. The ambulance drives away.
A piece was taken from him this morning and left there on the sidewalk. I wonder…how many pieces are left?