I couldn’t resist eye contract – his were the most captivating brown eyes I’d ever seen; dark caramel with flecks of amber. He saw me watching him, winked and flashed a charming smile that melted the cold fog around us and asked if I could spare a cigarette.
I complied and he began to chat, educating me on his life; he grew up in the Northeastern US and graduated from Brown University. Was he lying? Maybe, but from his speech and mannerisms, there was little doubt the man was intelligent and very well educated. He’d been here 18 years that month, just working odd jobs; grocery clerk, record store clerk, coffee barista… none lasted too long. Was it simply bad timing all these years or did he have a deficiency that kept him from holding down a “real” job? Probably a little of both.
I was in that neighborhood for a job interview, the return bus was late, he was well-mannered, so I held up my end of the conversation and nodded toward the bags around his feet filled with fruit, yogurt, bread, etc… and asked where the nearest grocer was. He told me his bags were from the food bank, wrote down the address for me. He added that he knew the difficulties of being on one’s own and jobless in this city so he threw in details on where to get less expensive rent, apply for government assistance and how to dissuade aggressive panhandling junkies.
35 minutes occupied with topics ranging from film to novels, history to art, and clever banter – all with the comfort and ease of old friends. When the #8 finally arrived, we boarded and took seats in opposite ends of the bus. No more chatting, no more eye contact.
We were just another form of “Festival Friends.”