He wasn’t begging, that much she had observed, after seeing him several times in various locations around town. He was using a dirty piece of green rag to pull an old metal grocery cart. The cart was loaded down with what appeared to be his earthly possessions. A deflated balloon hung forlornly from a corner. Various lengths of wood pieces were crisscrossed in the cart with pieces of cloth. A dirty blanket, plastic containers and an old bible rode on top, the cover indicating it had seen a lot of water damage. The outstanding difference about him, compared to the other homeless people pushing their carts, were the flowers. She had noticed this immediately, as they were so incongruous standing in a jar, which was kept in the cup holder of the cart. Today it was purple irises and a small, pink rose.
She had returned to the town on a whim, just a look around, she told herself. Would anything seem familiar? She had been a young child when her mother moved the two of them to a large city. She said they would be better off on their own. That was thirty years ago and neither had returned until now. It was still a modest and friendly small town. She could walk around it with ease, and was enjoying the pleasant weather and the freedom from city traffic and sirens.
He had stopped his cart just ahead of her. There was a short stone wall on which he sat, enjoying some respite from his cart pulling efforts. She was curious about the flowers and decided to speak to him. He seemed okay and did not appear drunk or crazy. His hair and long beard were grey. He was clean and she guessed his age as fifty plus.
Approaching him with some caution, she said, “Hello, isn’t this a lovely day?”
Nodding in agreement, he told her that he had come to town to see a doctor, and had gone to the
free walk-in clinic. He was staying a week pending some test results.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said, adding that it was easy to camp out in such nice weather.
Camping? Was that what the dirty blanket was for?
He was very talkative, and told her he had friends with a truck, who would be driving him home.
“Where is that?” she asked.
He told her that he had a small trailer in the hills outside of town. It was on Native land but they didn’t bother him.
She admired the flowers. Their colourful beauty stood in such contrast to his shabby goods. It was a homeless person’s cart of trash! Yet she believed he did have a trailer on the reserve land, as primitive as it likely was. There was something about him that was drawing her to exchange more dialogue.
She said, “I’m going on a trip in a few days.”
“Oh, I bet a nice lady like you is going to Hawaii?” he questioned.
“No, I’m going back to my home. It’s in another province, but I used to live here.”
“I’d like you to have one of my flowers. The iris may be too big, but here’s a nice little rose,” he said.
He pulled it out of the waterless jar. It was faded and long past its prime, with a very short stem. She did not want it, but accepted it graciously. She felt overwhelmed by this gesture. Was she going to tear up? He obviously had no material goods of value. The only beauty on his cart were the flowers and yet he was willing to share them, all because a stranger stopped to speak kindly with him and showed some personal interest. Meeting his direct gaze, she suddenly remembered reading somewhere that love, no matter where you find it, is like a flower.
Continuing on her way, she suddenly thought that she should have given him a few dollars, or enough, at least, for a cup of coffee. She had plenty of cash with her, and the hotel and flight were paid.
Would he have found it offensive? Insulting? Walking back to the hotel she decided that if she sighted him again she would offer a five dollar bill. Chiding herself, she wondered if one could even go to Timmy’s for that? Stopping in a mini park rest area she withdrew ten dollars from her wallet and sat down on one of the park benches to wait.
There he was just across the street, pulling his cart uphill going somewhere. Nowhere? Nearly sprinting across the intersection, she met him on the sidewalk.
“Hello, again,” she said. Then immediately she blurted out, “I hope you won’t take offence but I would like to give you some cash. Maybe get something for yourself somewhere?”
“No offence,” he said, taking the proffered bill and adding a “God bless you.” He then turned and went the other way, back to the mall for a much needed sandwich.
His thoughts were a jumble. There was something oddly familiar about that young woman.
What was it? Her eyes so blue and such kindness shining through them. He started to vaguely recall another woman and a comfortable bed from long ago. Was it a dream? Had there been a girl? Where was the girl? Where was the woman? And what about Sandy? Where was he now? The two of them had traveled around together for a few years. One day a uniformed woman had accosted him on the street and persuaded him to release Sandy to her society’s care, saying it was best for the dog. He would have good food and water all the time and also a warm bed, in a nice new home. She had people waiting for his Sandy. He had loved that dog but relinquished him to a better life.
She watched him walk away, pulling the cart behind him. There was a feeling nagging her that she couldn’t shake. She wished she had given him twenty dollars, not a paltry ten dollar bill. Returning to the hotel, she phoned her mother and questioned her. How old would “he” be now? Were his eyes blue?
What else could her mother tell her about a man from the past?
The responses caused her to delay her trip. Next day, she again roamed the town but did not see him anywhere. She went to the walk-in clinic. Not there. The receptionist would not advise her if he was known to them, stating confidentiality. Blah.Blah.Blah. She rented a car and searched the highway leading away from town for many hours. Up and down, round and round. Finally in desperation, she drove onto the Reserve land and went to the Band office.
“Do you know of an older man living in a trailer nearby, or anywhere on your acres of land?” she asked. “It is important.”
The two women in the office were not helpful. They said squatters were not allowed on their land and they had never heard of him. Further, what was she doing on their land? Didn’t she read the no trespassing sign at the gate? She apologized and left reluctantly.
She returned the rental car at the airport.
Safely home, she unpacked her suitcase. Yes! There it was! She pressed the small, faded pink rose into her scrapbook of childhood memories.