Fred was sitting in his usual spot, with his coffee piping its way up his nose. Yet today there were other things on his aging mind. His blind eyes pierced the darkness before him amidst the meaningless babble around him. He knew the people around him were talking, and he knew that it was when the voices were hushed…transformed to a whispers, that they were talking about him. He trusted those around him despite the knowledge that he was really rather a burden on society. His experience of people had told him he would be this way and his mind drifted to the very day he realized what life was about.
He remembered the day it happened. He remembered most of all because he had chosen to hold this memory close. The streets had been quiet and heavy with the smell of spring rains and he could hear the slow drip of precipitation as it coursed its way off of roof-tops and gutters onto the rising mist of the pavement. The man sat with his legs stretched out on the newspapers and cardboard on the hard concrete. “Pennies for the old man. ” He drawled through his spittle stained mouth. Fred shivered and walked on. “I know who you are. ” Shouted the man after him through a gurgled laugh.
Fred cringed deeply, hating the uselessness and hopelessness of the man who took the role of his alter-ego. Yes, that ego he nurtured so close to his puffed up breast. He continued walking towards the park, where he proposed to write a new song for his ever-growing repertoire. His daughter was participating in a play that day, but he hated the formalities of everyday life and particularly the things that were expected of his. Social obligation. There had been something in the mockery of the street-man’s voice that seems to worm its way into his preoccupied brain.
“I know who you are…” he repeated to himself, sneering at the arrogance of a man who had amounted to nothing…really. On his way back from the park, he thought of possible ways he could avoid walking past the menacing man. No, there was no way out and he shrunk into his designer overcoat, pulling his Al Capone hat over his eyes. That wouldn’t work either, he always wore it. The man was still there, apparently sleeping. Fred tiptoed past, holding his breath until he thought he was past the threat.
He let out a deep breath…rolling his eyes back in relief. He heard a cackle and thought he was imaging it, perhaps his artistic overbearing imagination had gotten the better of him. “Don’t wanna see me do you? ” said the gravelly voice. The sun was setting and the steam still rose form the grey pavement as Fred peered down at it. He suddenly felt awfully small. Maybe he should just talk to the man and get it over with he was thinking when the voice replied, “Yeah, just talk to the old man and get it over with…who knows, it could be you one day.
” He shrunk a few inches more and turned to swagger back to the emaciated body. “Let me buy us coffee first. ” Fred offered grudgingly. “I just loooove coffee, shrieked the voice, “but good Brazilian coffee please, none of this fake stuff…” Well, Fred thought, take the arm…. The two misfits were sitting on the pavement in silence, sipping the hot life-giving liquid. At length Fred began to wonder, “So how did you come to be here? ” The man sighed, a wet tuberculosis riddled sigh. “Well…my father was a surgeon and my mother…she never had to work.
My father never had much time for me but I had all I could want. ” The sky was falling again, but Fred was enjoying the feeling of rain on his Carducci slacks. “I studied and became a lawyer, got married and children and got divorced. Losing my family made me lose faith in being accomplished at anything. I just let it all go…drank it away. Felt it was easier to just live on the streets and have no one to answer to, no one placate. It was easy, but lonely. I got in a fight on the streets and had my eyes gouged out. Now I see more than I ever used to.
” Fred began to feel uncomfortable, but there was something he needed to ask. “Do you never miss your family, children…friends. ” The man gurgled again, smiling a gapped smile, the teeth that remained, clawing into the heart of the viewer. “Nah, I have more friends now than I ever did. These friends care about me out of pity, the others cared about me for what they could get out of me. ” Fred looked out at the empty streets and sidewalks…thinking of the man he walked past everyday with ever having really understood why he was there…