In dusks sombre drizzle he hobbles along; in the soft grey light of a dawn that shadows feed upon.
He takes small unsteady steps. Usually he is invisible; at best he is barely noticed by those around him.
Samuel’s worn overcoat has been his mantle through many years of lack, necessity, and need.
I have seen him many times over the years; always wondering about the story he carries within him. Sometimes I have talked to him, and given him small amounts of money when I had some cash I could spare.
Samuel was an old man, surely an old soul, and by all measures he was surely homeless, but he was always gracious, with a smile, and a ‘thank you,” when anyone took the time to acknowledge him, even if only to say hello.
Few people ever took the time to stop for a moment; to say, “Hello,” or even to acknowledge his existence.
Maybe he was a reminder to them; of how cruel this world can be; maybe he was a reminder that but for the grace of God it could be them huddled against the elements in all sorts of weather.
More than likely it was none of those things that stopped them noticing Samuel. It could have been that no one cared at all about a man they thought didn’t matter.
In time I could not walk past Samuel without stopping to say, “Good Morning,” even if I had nothing to offer him.
His eyes alway brightened when I stopped where he sat at the exit from Highway 35; just across the street from the bus shelter where the morning business types huddled against the cold, waiting for their ride to what ever office, or other job beckoned them.
On occasion I would think of Samuel as I packed my lunch for the day and make a few extra sandwiches. He never asked for anything but always appreciated the smallest of gifts. Egg salad was his favourite.
Supper: Something most of us take for granted; but walking home from work on a very cold January evening I found myself thinking about how such a normal thing is not something everyone can take for granted.
It was early evening on a Friday; I had just returned from work and as I walked closer to Samuel I considered how he had probably not eaten a hot meal in a while, maybe a long while; I tried to imagine how it must feel to have nowhere to go on a snowy freezing night like this one was shaping up to be.
Samuel smiled as he saw me walking up the snow covered sidewalk.
Pausing beside Samuel I leaned down to talk to him; “How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh you know…just another day in paradise,” he replied; obviously very cold though the smile never left his face.
“Can I get you dinner?” I asked; trying not to sound like I was offering him charity, or to be insulting.
For a moment he looked uneasy and lowered his eyes, but answered; “I would like that.”
“I can’t pay for it,” he said softly.
“That’s okay,” I replied. “I hate eating alone, and having someone to talk to is more than payment enough.”
“There is a little diner across the street, it is getting late and it should be quiet at this time.” I offered.
Samuel gathered his few belongings; a small canvas bag, and several plastic bags, then rose stiffly. We walked in silence to the diner only a few hundred yards away.
As I opened the door Samuel looked relieved; there were only two other people sitting in a booth.
The waitress who greeted us did not look comfortable, but I ignored her frown and asked for a booth for two. She looked as if she were about to say something more but finally smiled and led us to a secluded booth in the back of the diner.
The place was nothing special, just a basic diner with basic food, but Samuel looked through the menu as if he were at a fancy bistro. I told him he could order whatever he liked.
The waitress took our order, all the while scowling, and looking like she really didn’t want to serve us.
The food arrived and we ate in silence. Samuel seemed to be enjoying the food, though he ate slowly, enjoying every mouthful.
Samuel finished eating his meal and a thoughtful look deepened the lines on his aged face.
“May I ask you your name young man?”
“Of course,” I replied. “My name is Stephen.”
“Why me?“ He began; “Why me, why today, why this place?” You really don’t know me, and I know almost nothing about you…I honestly don’t. “Sure, I know that you go to work, you come home, and you; for some reason, take the time to see me.”
I didn’t have a good answer to give Samuel, all I could offer was, “I am sorry if I have intruded,” as I looked down at the faded checkered tablecloth. “I only felt there was more to your story than people see when they pass by you.
“Everyone has a story you know, no matter what anyone wants you to see, there is always more.” He said softly. “I am no different than all those others.
So we began to talk, while Samuel enjoyed the warmth of the diner.
The fire in Samuels eyes speaks of another world, of other lives. Slowly he begins to speak.
“I have built worlds and been held captive as they crumbled; forced to watch, always so helpless…then they were gone.”
“A wife with cancer; a war, and 3 grown children out there making their way in this world. I tried, honestly I did; there was no way to stop any of it, I could not help.”
“I do not regret my choices; such a life of adventure, love and loss. It is inevitable that we feel loss, the one thing, the one rule is everything dies, and we can never prevent it.”
“If there is one thing I can tell you anything that might help, it would be;
Clear the burden of your past years.”
As we left the diner I pressed 50 dollars into his hand and thanked him for talking with me. He merely said, “you’re welcome,” and hobbled away.
Several weeks went by without seeing Samuel at his usual spot by the freeway, and one morning I crossed to the bus stop to ask if anyone had seen him recently.
“No, but I’m glad he has gone; don’t they have places for people like that?” a woman in a business suit scowled. “Goodbye, and good riddance to him I say,” she added.
I continued to watch for him, but he never returned. In the spring he had still not returned.
I miss Samuel; I miss my friend.