It was on Tremont Street in Boston that he approached me for the first time. He wore a tattered, soiled and sandy colored P-coat that reeked of street filth and body odor. To see him walking in your direction made you want to cross the street to the harbour of the other side but somehow he’d managed to corner me. His sunken jujube eyes stared at me wildly as he reached out his hand.
“Hey, mistah…got some spare—“
I waved him off before he could even finish the question, a learned response somehow turned involuntary from having lived in the city many years ago. The number of threadbare pariahs had risen in recent years as had their brazen ‘come on, buddy’ attitude towards the multitudes of customers that walk their territory on a daily basis. I thought little of the mundane encounter and went about my day. It wasn’t until dusk, as I made my way down Columbus Avenue to the train station, that I unexpectedly experienced a repeat performance by the same man.
“Hey, mistah…can ya’—“
I was even quicker this time in waving him away but was overwhelmed by the fact that this was the same beggar that stopped me on Tremont Street less than five hours ago. Some emotional cog turned inside my brain awakening the latent Good Samaritan from my catholic upbringing. Thoughts of the denial of Jesus Christ during his Passion by Peter transformed into epiphanies that made me wonder if I hadn’t just committed the same sin. I’ve never considered myself a devout Christian. So why was I questioning my actions now? I got on the train almost believing that I might have to share a seat with this man. What would I say when he turned to me asking a third time for the smallest crumbs of my apathetic compassion? As the train began moving through the darkness, I wondered how many times in the past had I stared blindly into the face of want. My soul felt bruised, I was ashamed. What if Christ himself had asked me for spare change? Would I wave him away too?