His Sharpie’d sign read, “I’M BLIND. PLEASE HELP.”
The grizzle-bearded man sat cross-legged atop a sheet of cardboard, blinking through squinted eyes. The grayed concrete steps behind him and the sidewalk he faced were damp from recent rain. His head turned towards the group of trendy, giggling teenage girls huddled by the fountain and then in the direction of the Starbucks steps where two ladies laughed in mid-conversation. A woman in a vividly red swing coat smoked a cigarette over her espresso at the outdoor cafe.
The man’s appearance was unassuming. He looked like a sad grandpa, not a crazy bum. He was warmly dressed, but his facial expression spoke of needing a giant hug from a friendly body. At the sound of approaching high-heeled steps, his head tilted quickly upward and his body rocked forward and backward gently in anticipation. But the steps passed him quickly and his face fell. Before he could recover, quieter male steps and clinking coins surprised him from the opposite direction.
His meandering fingers splayed in their hunt for the pieces, gathered a few and then felt for the cup’s opening. Metal met metal as the coins fell to the bottom of the nearly empty can. A patch of sun through the clouds warmed his face but made him squint and blink more quickly, returning a look of concern to his face. Another quick pedestrian leaned down to drop-and-go their change onto his mat. The man’s hand lifted in thanks at the diminishing sound of their footsteps. Time was slow while the busy world moved on.
She approached from a distance, wearing a sleek black business suit, a black scarf and oversized sunglasses that hid her eyes. Her hair was dark and heavily fringed with bangs. Combined with her confident stride, the resulting look was one of impatient sophistication. Long but feminine steps carried her quickly to and past the sitting man. But she stopped abruptly, still facing the direction she was headed. After a breath’s pause she backtracked to him, almost angrily. Setting down her briefcase, she leaned down to pick up his sign.
The man could only hear the sound of her scribbling purposefully on his cardboard, but he waited patiently as this unseen stranger did the unknown. All he could do was lean over and feel for her shoes and then place a hand gently over each foot. The pen-scratches stopped suddenly and the man felt the sign nudge his hip as she placed it next to him again. The flapping wings of a lone pigeon joined the brisk sound of her disappearing steps. She never said a word to him.
Before long the man heard new footsteps approaching and more coins falling onto his cardboard. Over and over, each passerby leaned down and emptied their pockets to him. Handfuls of coins, or sometimes only a few, but even in his bewilderment the man something was radically different. His hunt-and-deposit routine couldn’t keep up with such an outpouring of love and he struggled with the growing pile of change. His hand wrapped around the top of his cup at one point, and he lifted it to feel that it was now heavy with generosity.
Later that day, the lady in the sunglasses returned to him. When she stopped in front of him, the cross-legged man eagerly reached his hands to her feet. When his sensory touch told him that, here… here is the person who changed things, he lifted his chin and spoke for the first time.
“Wha’ did ye do to my sign?”
Squatting down to rest on the heels of her shoes, her lips softened into a tiny smile.
“I wrote the same….” Her hand lifted to grasp his shoulder compassionately. “….but different words.”
The man’s head bobbed in acknowledgement as she stood to walk away. He raised his hand and rushed to utter a “Thanks, love.” before her steps grew too faint.
With a final look over her shoulder, she gazed upon the cardboard sign that now read:
“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY AND I CAN’T SEE IT.”