“Would you have a quarter for something to eat? A quarter?” Looking down, I saw a young man, a boy really, looking up at me. Thirteen, fourteen maybe. Dressed in blue corduroy pants, sweatshirt and ski jacket, the only thing that separated him from the other kids I had seen that day was the green garbage bag clutched tightly in his fist. The other hand was outstretched.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the change that I had and dropped it into his waiting hand. His eyes thanked me more than his voice did, the words trailing away into the wind. But those eyes – aware, anxious, moving, scared, thankful eyes. He did not belong here, this child; where had he come from, and why?
The thought shattered cold on the sidewalk as I crossed the street toward the market. A flower vendor – bright colours against the snow spread around the back of the white van. “The small carnations are $2.50, these here are $3.50, and all of these are four dollars.” Four dollars for flowers, a quarter for food?
“Would you have a quarter . . . ” and the words end as another person turns away, pretending to ignore him. “Here kid, take this.” Two crumpled reddish-brown bills – enough for a bouquet of flowers. “No, not that much – I couldn’t take that.” “Look kid, take this. You can’t eat for change. I don’t want you to buy no shit and you don’t buy no nose candy. You buy yourself something to eat and then you go home, kid. It can’t be that bad.”
Again the words of thanks, and again the look in those eyes – fighting sleep and hungry. Go home kid, go home. You don’t belong here. (Does anybody?)