A Winter Night

There are so many ways that a person can be different, but in 99.9% of the ways, we're the same. We all have our struggles, we all have our story and our dreams, and we are all strangely connected, no matter what we think of one another, and what kinds of labels, such as "the customer" or "the wife" or "the homeless man", that we stick to other people and come to believe in for ourselves.

Snow was coming down heavily, glowing orange beneath the flickering street lights. A homeless man was walking down the sidewalk, stumbling slightly as a car zipped past him. He passed by the pawn shop, the closed bank, and the Chinese restaurant that had also been closed due to infestation. Nobody knew for sure what creature had infested it, but the windows and door had been boarded up for at least two months now.

The homeless man stopped directly under a streetlight, staring up at the bright orange globe as if he had never seen one before. His old, green winter coat was torn in several places, and the zipper didn’t close, revealing another button-up coat underneath. His faded red toque was stained and perforated; his outside layer of sweatpants were pulled over the tops of his hiking boots, which were the only thing he wore that looked presentable. They left clean prints in the freshly falling snow.

The homeless man’s face had clearly not been shaved – or washed – in several days. His eyes were sunken and tired, with deep lines protruding from the corners. His lips were chapped and sported a slightly bluish tint. He must have been in his late forties – early fifties, perhaps – but he looked at least 15 years older than that.

He stood under the streetlight, as if the light would somehow warm him. His face was still lifted towards it, his eyes now closed. He raised his arms until they were horizontal, palms up, embracing the light, the snow. His dry lips spread into a small smile. Tiny white snowflakes settled on his nose, his lashes, his chin.

 

It gave you goosebumps to look at him, the waitress decided. Suddenly it seemed like the light wasn’t shining on the homeless man, but from him. His face radiated a simple, selfless peace that made the waitress’ stomach hurt.

The waitress sighed and turned the key in the ignition in front of her. The car was about the same age as the waitress, and it shuddered in complaint before coming to life. It didn’t like the cold; the waitress and her car had that in common as well. She flicked on the headlights, taking one last glance at the homeless man, who was still standing statue-like beneath the street light. Then the waitress put the car in drive and drove away, leaving parallel tracks in the otherwise untouched blanket of snow.

The waitress shivered, her freezing hands clamped around the freezing steering wheel. She tried not to think about the long day she’d had at work, focusing on the way the snow flew towards her as she drove, lifting above the windshield at the last second. The streets were dark and empty of life. The calmness of the snow had a blanketing affect on her shivering heart as well. She released a long, heavy sigh and gently pressed on the brake before a red light.

Despite her efforts to ignore them, thoughts of the long day she had just finished attacked her mind, relentlessly. An argument with the landlord, then the manager, then the one with the particularly nasty customer. The waitress tried another sigh, but it was weak, and the tenseness remained in her back and stomach. The customer had ordered his gravy on the side or something. She didn’t even remember for sure if that had been the issue. “Is it too much to ask?” the customer had demanded. “Do we need to send you back to high school to learn these things?”

The End

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