He and the dog were seated at the corner of the busy intersection. Every day for a week, I’d spotted them on my ride to work. He was middle-aged, scruffy, bearded. The dog, a German Shepherd mix, sat quietly by his side, and with gentle brown eyes surveyed the passing traffic. Next to the dog’s water dish was a sign: HOMELESS. HUNGRY. PLEASE HELP.
“The cops should do something about that guy,” said Doug. “He doesn’t belong in this part of town.”
“I feel bad for them… I wonder if the dog’s hungry?”
Doug laughed. “Does he look hungry?”
No, I guess he didn’t.
I studied the man next to him. “He doesn’t look too good, though…”
“Probably shoots the cash he gets straight into his arm. Well, he won’t be getting any of my money. He probably makes more in a day than we do.”
“How do you figure?”
“The world’s full of suckers – don’t be one of ’em.”
Doug pulled out his phone and started checking messages.
As we waited for the light to change, I watched the man. He stared straight ahead, not looking at the cars, apparently used to being ignored.
Doug looked up. “All the taxes we pay for social programs… why are these people still on the street? Isn’t that what Welfare’s for? There are shelters… If anyone’s homeless, it’s because they want to be.”
I thought of my grandfather. He’d been no stranger to hard times, but he’d always shared with those who had a need. My father would get exasperated with him, but Pop would smile. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he’d say. He believed it, too. My brother and I were fortunate; we never did without. In truth, we were a little spoiled. Pop would chide us for our selfishness, admonishing us to let our ‘better angels’ prevail.
Where had my better angels gone? Pop wouldn’t have weighed a man’s need before trying to help him. Why did I?
Opening my purse, I withdrew my wallet. Inside was a ten. I beckoned to the man. “Here, take this.”
He looked at me and smiled. “God bless.”
As we pulled away, Doug frowned.
“It’s two lattes at Starbucks,” I said quietly. “I can afford it.”
“That’s not the point. People like you are part of the problem!”
Maybe he’s right. Or maybe not.
When Doug looked at the man, he saw a social problem. I saw a person. I’m not naive: I know I didn’t change anyone’s world with a ten dollar bill – unless you count my own.
I dropped Doug off in front of our building.
“Not today… think I’ll take a sick day.”
“You’re not sick!”
He was wrong. I was sick of my apathy, and only just realizing it.
Disgusted, Doug turned away.
I pulled out my phone and Googled a number.
“Jefferson County Food Pantry,” answered the woman.
“How can I help?” I asked.
I drove past my office.
World Count: 498
This story is in response to a challenge by ThainInVain to write a 500-word flash fiction based on the prompt: while driving to work one morning, you decide to drive past the office and keep on driving.
The story is also influenced in part by a quote from Charles Dickens: ‘…So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.’ (Charles Dickens, ‘Barnaby Rudge’)