He stood in the street seemingly locked on the horizon in search of the scheduled 42. His back turned to her.
In this city purporting brotherly love; she was taught to pay careful attention to her surroundings.
Dark pants hanging down; dark boxers peering up; dark jacket zipped high; elongated dark shirt peeking beneath; dark cap pulled low; black hands tucked in pockets; shoulders hunched. He watched for the bus.
Her job begins at 7am; she runs her department and prefers to arrive a half hour prior. She must rise and grind early each weekday and some Saturday’s to make her hour commute.
It was surprisingly cool considering the blizzard which unceremoniously dumped 24 inches of mother natures cold dandruff on the city, successfully shutting it down over the weekend.
He was tall, wiry, slightly swaying.
Her eyes scanned the block landscape. Three ways to run including backtracking. One way to fight. Her hands gripped tightly around the protection she carried in her pocket.
Another man was approaching the bus stop, his steps quicker, almost as if he were trying to reach the stop before her. It’d been awhile since she’s caught the bus but she recognized him as a regular.
They reached the stop simultaneously.
“Good morning” his voice was fatherly; his familiar jacket gave her a small sense of comfort. He was staring at the swaying man in the street. Coming up behind them another man. Shorter, thinner with a look that said “I have lived too long to sponsor much nonsense”
She recognized him from waiting at the stop a few times.
As his eyes locked on the swaying man, he acknowledged the woman with a “Good morning sister,” slapped hands; exchanged greetings with the familiar man and in an effortless dance one moved to flank her on the left, the other to the right.
There was now a safety buffer between the woman and the swaying man.
Their actions moved her. It wasn’t a question of knowing who she was, it was a question of who she was. This type of chivalry comes from understanding the culture of men and women, of a deep seeded respect for mothers and daughters.
She was flanked by masterful relics of a time gone by.
Absolutely fearing locking eyes with the swaying man, she purposely looked in the opposite direction.
Until he began talking.
“When the homosexuals, you know, they see, you see, the snow trees…”
He swayed more.
“That’s gonna, who? YOU KNOW WHO! Don’t play with me that they gonna do, where where then that…”
Her eyes inconspicuously lifted to look at him.
He was swaying as if deep in conversation. His left arm raised and lowered as if pointing to someone.
“Who? You? The homosexuals, they gonna…”
His sudden bark startled her but she was insulated between two men who stood as if casually waiting on a bus; but whose eyes were locked on the man swaying in the street.
She looked at him then.
His clothes were disheveled and heavy with filth. Battered shoes, blackened socks, Dirty toothless face and knotted grey beard made the whole of him.
His bark was instantly recognizable.
Four years ago on her first night in her newly leased apartment, she was kept awake all night by what sounded like a man barking in the park across the street from her. He would interchange between some type of talking and then a loud bark.
This cycle happened for months.
It wasn’t until near the end of the day that the noises began. She tried everything to block his sounds but it was like he was on a schedule. Eventually she just got used to it and he blended into the background with sirens and voices of family discourse.
On occasion she glimpsed his shadowy figure in the dusk of evening; but never saw him as she did this morning.
Her eyes wandered towards the piles of plowed snow in the street; the snowdrifts covering the sliding board, swings and benches in the park, and she wondered where he had been during the snow storm.
He lived on the benches in the park.
Had he gotten in from the blizzard?
Did he “have the sense to come in from the cold?” A saying her Nana used to describe simple people.
Her nana never applied it to someone as simple as this man. She meant simple assed folk who knew better but wouldn’t do better.
No, not this man.
Possibly schizophrenic, whether diagnosed or not, he was suffering from some type of mental breakdown.
Where was he during the blizzard?
She saw him now, cold, lonely, locked inside his mind, unable to escape to freedom.
That thing was happening to her. The part of her reserved for the underdog was opening. She didn’t want it to. She didn’t want to care.
She had no control of the opening.
She remembered sitting in her window marveling, from the warmth of her living room, at the beauty and power of Mother Nature as snow drifted from the sky for three days, layering the landscape with a inescapably frosted mess.
Where was this man during that blizzard?
Her eyes darted toward him careful not to catch his eyes.
“What they don’t know, I can do what when when you know I can can HA!” he lamented.
The surmising became heavy on her heart.
She now believed this man had been barking in the park during the blizzard. She can’t remember hearing him but where would he have gone?
As if he were hers, she cared.
At that moment her eyes shifted to the church across the street. She thought to herself “He could have stayed in the church. That would have been perfect. The church.”
She took a good long look at the chapel staring blankly at her in the cresting hours of morning.
“No” she said to herself. “The doors to the church are closed.”
The impact of what she said hit her harder than expected.
“The doors to the church are closed.”
A montage of welcoming Preachers from every church she ever visited scrolled in focus flash photo record. Pastors from all walks of life imploring “The doors of the church are open.”
She brought the church into full view.
They aren’t open.
The doors to the church are locked.
The church is locked because it is no longer safe to harbor people in need of safety.
The 42 rambled before her, opening its doors to welcome her.
She boarded; leaving the swaying man behind.
Unexpected tears manifested in the corners of her eyes.