Sketch from the Park

I sat down thinking to myself that I would sit on the park bench for a short time until my parking meter ran out. No sense in wasting the money when I could enjoy some quiet reading time. Then, from behind me, I heard what I assumed at the moment was the voice of a lawyer talking into some Bluetooth device rather loudly. I attempted to tune it out just like the rest of the city noises. It was all just background.

I soon found that I couldn’t do much to tune the voice out as it continued to approach and grew louder with proximity. I glanced from the corner of my eye to see a worn leather suitcase plopped unceremoniously on the sidewalk near my bench as it’s owner paced back and forth arguing with someone on the phone. I turned my head to see a somewhat bedraggled gentleman with graying hair. He looked nothing like a lawyer.

The man strode further on down the sidewalk, seeming to have some destination in mind, and I realized then that the suitcase was still sitting approximately ten feet from me.  I momentarily wondered if the man had forgotten it and whether I should call out to him, but before I could make up my mind to any action, he came walking back much quieter this time. He picked up his suitcase and resumed his progress down the walk only to stop once again another twenty feet away, drop the suitcase and pick up the conversation with the person on the other end of the phone.

“Don’t talk to me like that; yeah, now a lady is looking at me,” he said, and I guiltily wondered if I was the “lady” he was referring to. I quickly averted my eyes back to my book trying to appear innocent of having eavesdropped on his conversation. “She’s just trying to read a book, and you’re interrupting her,” he continued much more subdued than the previous topic of conversation but still obviously irritated with his caller’s demeanor. I peeked over the top of my book shifting slightly on the bench to see if there were others nearby, but no; I was the one and only potential culprit. He was referring to me, and I found myself relieved when he picked up his suitcase yet again and continue his stroll towards the entrance to the parking garage – or so I thought.

Again peering over the top of my book, now fascinated by this odd gentleman and his suitcase, I became even more confused by his behavior when he again flung down the suitcase behind a dumpster loudly proclaiming, “you’ve got people looking at me! Why can’t you just leave me alone?” He proceeded to sink exasperatedly down on top of his suitcase and soon all I could see were his feet sticking out from behind the dumpster.

Figuring my entertainment had subsided, I went back to my reading. I managed another two paragraphs before I could hear his voice again echoing from the archway to the parking garage. He seemed to be telling the other person that they were in no way married. Puzzled and slightly amused by this new development, I continued staring at my book while tuning my ears in on his conversation yet again hoping, this time, he wouldn’t notice.

“We’re not married. You and I were never married. Wendy and I were never married,” he retorted. I could only imagine the other half of this conversation being just as emotionally charged as his half based on his tone of voice as he raged on again stepping from behind the dumpster, “Who the hell do you think you are? You’re not entitled to anything! Wendy and I were never married. Common Law marriage hasn’t existed since 2004, and we weren’t even together for seven years before 2004.” He began pacing again then headed in my direction yet. I shifted my eyes from my book again just in time to see him stoop over a cigarette disposal bin and start rummaging through it. Oh, I thought.

Up until this point I’d given the man’s appearance and odd suitcase the benefit of the doubt and made no assumptions, but it was at this moment that something clicked in my brain, and I realized that this man was likely homeless. At the same time, I became aware that he was not, in fact, talking to anyone via a Bluetooth device, but rather to a voice only he could hear. I buried my nose deep into my book yet again and as he continued past me leaving his suitcase tucked behind the dumpster. He strode on towards a garbage can further down the walkway behind me still yelling about Wendy and then back again towards the dumpster. Lifting the lid to the dumpster, he proclaimed to the voice only he could hear, “if I find something you’re not getting any of it do you hear me?”

An immense feeling of sadness washed over me. My mind ping-ponged about contemplating whether I should buy the man some food at a nearby cafe, or if money would be more helpful? Was it safe to approach him? What if he became angry with me? Here I was stereotyping this poor man; surely I should be offering help of some sort …

And as I wrestled with my failings as a human being, the man pick up his suitcase from behind the dumpster and walk off, checking each of the garbage receptacles as he went.

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