I saw him from the corner of my eye as I exited the international grocery store. He was half slumped, his back to me, sitting on the hot concrete curb at the far end of the parking lot. I approached my car and put the two small bags of groceries inside. The bag for one daughter on the front seat and the bag for our household in the trunk.
I’d made a brief stop to the unfamiliar store on this Summer day as it was near the pool where I just finished my swim. I chuckled from the moment I entered the store, reading the sign: “Businese Hours”. While perusing for produce for my daughter, Monique, I saw strange giant fruit called Jackfruit and unique vegetables. I chose round Sicilian eggplant for my other daughter, Giselle. I passed by signs advertising cooked Pork Blood. That item wasn’t on my grocery list. An entire aisle was dedicated to rice. Each bag enticed buyers with sayings such as: “Have a Rice Day, Today!” Another aisle had cans of food I’ve never tried before like quail eggs in water. A can labeled Mixed Congee advertised: “There’s something more than you want!” I didn’t stop at the rows of fish that were staring right back at me.
However, I paused at the baked goods area. In front of me, at eye level, were Husband and Wife Cookies. They looked the same in appearance. I checked the ingredients. Oh, I see. The Husband Cookie had pork added to it. Now, that’s something I never thought to add to my baking. I bought one for my hubby, Guy.
With the groceries secure, I couldn’t get the image of that person out of my mind. I drove to the corner of the parking lot, and saw him. He had something long, thin and black tucked under his arm and sticking out behind him. I hoped it wasn’t a long gun. That he was lying in wait for someone. I stopped my car and hesitantly called out my window, “Hey, bud, you okay?”
He got up, and limped towards me, with his cane. Not a gun. He put his fingers near his mouth and said, “Eat! Eat!” I looked at Monique’s groceries. Cilantro. Parsley. Boston Lettuce. None of that would do. I handed him the one litre carton of chocolate milk I got for a deal at one dollar. He took it, shook his head “No” and said again, “Eat!” I handed him one of Monique’s apples. He was even more agitated. He pointed to his missing teeth. He was in really rough shape. He couldn’t munch on an apple.
I got out of my car. He was right beside me now, looking hopeful. I went to the back seat. Nope, that bag held birdseed I had forgotten to return to another store. Oh, that’s right. I had put my other bag in the trunk. He followed me to my trunk. I reached into the bag. No Sicilian eggplants for him.
There it was! I handed him Guy’s cookie. When the homeless man read the words Husband Cookie on the cellophane bag, his entire face lit up. It brought tears to my eyes. I apologized for not having more food and told him about Street Help, a homeless shelter where he could eat between 9 am and 6 pm. But, I knew he couldn’t walk that far. And I knew my family wouldn’t be happy with me if I started giving rides to homeless people.
I drove home. Disappointed in myself I didn’t do more for him. Like go back in the store and buy him more food. I tried to reason with myself that I had an appointment and was in a hurry. I tried to make up for it.
I put some granola bars and cookies in a bag, plus a pull-top hearty soup along with a spoon. And added a piece of paper with the shelter’s address and bus fare. I still needed to buy some bottled water and a Tim Horton’s gift card so he can buy a sandwich or chili. I put some money in the bag for now.
The next day, I found myself at the same end of town, a half hour from home, while on our way to a church yard sale with my Mom and Monique. I told Mom, “I just have to make a little detour.” I pulled into the parking lot, scanning it for the old man. He was nowhere to be found.
I told myself there will be more opportunities. I swim in that neighbourhood a couple times a week. Our paths will cross again.