It was already dark. The sun sets now at 4:30. And it was raining, lightly. But I needed to drop off my rent check and I needed the exercise so I kept walking. I passed the Cadillac Cafe and Colosso, I passed Helen's Bakery playing Christmas music from a low-quality speaker, I walked past Dava Bead store and wondered who it was that was that into beads. I made it past the quickie mart on the corner and even past the the Pure Aveda salon ("How much is their light hold hairspray?") and the Azteca Mexican restaurant. But I was allured into Goodwill. Yeah, with all the great shopping, it was Goodwill that suckered me in--but it was because they had books in the window. And I knew they would be cheap so I stopped in to take a look.
Prayer of Jabez? Read it. DaVinci Code? Don't care. Ancient Greek drama? I don't think so . . . . so I left the store without buying anything, but it delayed me for just the right amount of time to meet Cameron.
I didn't notice him at first. It was dark and there were several people at the 9 bus stop there. To me it was just a crowd of people waiting for the bus. I walked past and crossed the street. Did I hear someone call to me? I wasn't sure; I was listening to an audio book, With Christ in the School of Prayer, and I was just to the part where it is talking about having faith in the Promiser. . .
But I thought I heard something again, so I took my headphones off and looked around. That's when I saw him. "Ma'am! Do you have just a minute?" He was pretty tall, wearing lots of dark layers with dark shoes. He had a dark beard and a dark face with dark eyes. He was young--25? 30?
"Yes, I do."
He said, "I'm sorry to take up your time . . . but I'm looking for work. I don't want to beg, but I'll do anything--any side job, any yard work, anything you need. I live on the streets and I really need the money." He told me that he couldn't get into a short-term shelter ("there are a lot of homeless men in this city, I guess") but he was on a waiting list for a long-term shelter. He had been spending his money on food, but now he needed three other things more urgently: an ID card, an address, and bedding. He normally stowed his pack in the bushes somewhere, and one day he went to retrieve it and it was gone. Someone had stolen it--and inside were all his earthly possessions. Not much, but it did include his sleeping bag and supplies. "But I met this guy who said that if I could get half of the money to replace it, he'd match the other half, so I'm doing everything I can to get it."
How much do you need? "I have six dollars to my name. I think I need about 36 more . . ." Where are you staying tonight? "Well, there's this place by a food bank up north . . . I have this little nook there." Do you want to stay at my house tonight? "No, that would only put a band-aid on my problem. I really need work . . . but thank you. Thank you."
He kept apologizing for his rough appearance and his smell. "My great-grandmother, who raised me, said that if you can smell yourself, other people have been smelling you for days." He was so embarrassed and kept stepping a little away from me. "It's fine," I would tell him. "You're fine. It's okay. You don't have to be embarrassed."
He ventured to tell me a little about how he was feeling. "I'm a man, but people keep treating me like I'm less than that." No one will let him use their restroom. "I know there are bushes, and I guess we're animals, but sometimes I just want to use the bathroom . . . they take one look at me and say 'No public restrooms.'" He's trying not to get discouraged, but it's hard. "Maybe you can tell in my eyes, but I'm feeling . . . I'm feeling . . ."
"Desperate?" I offered.
"Well, I wouldn't want to say desperate. . . "
"It's okay. I've been desperate."
Well, I had to tell him that I didn't have any money with me--but I could go home and see what kind of cash I had on hand. Great, he said. He'd meet me anywhere. Okay, then I'll go home (I live about 10 blocks from here) and come back. You'll be here? Okay. Between here and 15th, he said.
So I walked home. And I cried the whole way.
When I was a block from the apartment, I passed the 7-11 on the corner and a man asked me for help. "Please, ma'am. Do you have anything I could eat? I'm so hungry. I haven't eaten in two days." No, I didn't have any money with me, but I might be coming back this way again. I shook his hand. His name was Lee.
I got home and found a roll of quarters; ten bucks. Josh wanted to come with me so we headed out together in the dark and into the rain. But when I got to our meeting place, Cameron wasn't there. We walked between the Safeway and 15th several times, checked in the parking garages, walked through the grocery store, looked on the other side of the street, checked in the Goodwill, peered into the side streets, called out his name. I was wet, I had tripped and fallen, and I was so sad. And on our way back home, having given up on finding Cameron, we stopped by the 7-11 to buy Lee some food. But he was no where to be found. No Lee. And no Cameron.
I didn't even get to tell him my name.
"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" --The Bible, book of James.