One sunny day in May, 1977, I was walking back to my office from a downtown restaurant. I was crossing the street at the intersection of Trade and Alexander streets when a man approached me.
I was relatively new to
having arrived in December 1976, fresh out of college, ready to set the world
on fire. I was 24 years old. I had a master’s degree. My head was full of new ideas and dreams for
The man who approached me that day did not have any hopes or dreams. He did not care about the future. His thoughts were on the moment.
“Hey, sir!” he yelled to me. I looked at him, but kept on walking.
“Sir. Hey, sir!”
I stopped. He stood beside me looking at me from head to toe.
“Can you give me 50 cents for bus fare?” he asked.
“No.” I lied.
I started to walk faster, toward my office.
“Hey, you’re a lawyer, ain’t you? Look at you, all dressed up in a coat and tie. You’re a lawyer.” He looked at me looking at him.
“That’s right. I’m a bum.” He said. “I ain’t got no job. I ain’t got no house. I ain’t go no fancy clothes. I ain’t got no shiny car. I ain’t even got 50 cents. You’re a lawyer and you tell me you ain’t got 50 cents? I might be a bum but I ain’t no lyin’ lawyer.”
He was yelling. Passersby were looking. I walked faster.
“I’m not a lawyer.” I told him.
“Well, you’re still a liar!” he proclaimed.
“Listen,”I said, my teeth and fists clenched. “Stop following me. I’m not giving you any money.
I walked on. I crossed the street to the overhead walkway that spanned
Street. The stranger followed me. I began to climb the stairs to the walkway
two at a time.
“Wait,” he called, huffing and puffing. “Wait.”
I reached the top of the walkway and looked behind me. He was there, gasping for breath.
“Don’t…walk…so…fast,” he puffed. “Us bums…we don’t…jog…like…you lawyers do. His hands were on his knees and he was bent over, trying to catch his breath.
I walked away.
I ran across the walkway to the stairs leading to the
. I hurried down the stairs. I looked up.
He was midway down. County
I had had it. He was going to follow me all the way to my office unless I put a stop to it. I turned to face him as he reached the bottom of the stairs. I dug into my pocket and pulled out two quarters.
“Don’t you have any self-respect?” I asked.
He took the quarters from my hand, his eyes looking at the ground. “No,” he said quietly. And he turned and walked away.
I went back to my third floor office and sat down at my desk. I looked out my window. From there I could see the new Courthouse, the jail and the police station. Walking on the sidewalk was the man that followed me, following another man with his hand raised. I could almost hear him saying “Wait!” I began to laugh.
They faded from my view as a memory from the deepest part of me surfaced. I could hear my mother’s voice admonishing me for making fun of an old man walking down the road. “You should never do that. Sometimes angels come down and walk the earth testing people’s goodness.”she had told me.
I sat there for another moment, thinking about what she had said and that man who had asked for 50 cents. Then I took my papers and got back to work. I never saw him again.