Stu sat down on the hard pavement, once more to resume his position on the busy street. With his dirty cap out in front of him and his gray cotton fleese wrapped about his weary form, he sought eye contact with every passing pedestrian.
"Spare change," he repeated again and again in a monotonous voice. No one was paying him any attention. But to grab their attention would require a certain amount of energy, a level of spirit which Stu had lost. He passed the next few hours in this manner, the hopeless rejection taking any energy he managed to gather. A few quarters was all he gained.
Then the night arrived.
A drunk teenager and his girl approached, and Stu gave them the same greeting as always. "Spare change."
The teen stopped and flung his arms out in gesture to Stu. "Look at you man," he said. "You're not going to get any change sitting there like that. You gotta be friendly to people."
Stu gave the teen an honest look. "Spare change," he repeated.
The teen gave a mocking laugh. "Spare change? Why should I give you anything?" The boy threw his arm around his girl and faced Stu with a dirty look. "Why don't you get up and talk to people? You're just annoying everyone when you beg like that."
Stu looked on, trying to deafen the words with other thoughts.
"Come on man!" The teen bent down and gave Stu a straight look. "Now you're trying to ignore me! People ignore you all day and you go and do it to me!" The teen scoffed and stood up. "Come on Britt," he said to his girl. "This guy's not gettin' anywhere."
The teen walked on with his girl, and Stu remained as always, silent and staring. Then someone new arrived.
"Spare change," Stu said.
The figure stopped. Stu stared at the black jacket of the man, but did not raise his eyes. No money fell into his hat. "Spare change," he repeated.
The jacket rustled and a hand was removed from the pocket. Stu continued to stare ahead. His eyes quivered only slightly. Seeing the dismal street lamps across the street, the scarred buildings, and the dead sign posts, Stu looked back to the black jacket.
Then the man spoke. "The boy did not give you many options," he said in an even voice. "He was sadly accurate in saying you were rather hopeless. But who is he to speak of your hopelessness when he has no hope to offer? He only offered scorn."
Stu finally looked up. A thoughtful face with fierce eyes gazed back. This man was different. He made eye contact. True eye contact. Stu blinked. The man was actually seeing him. It made him shiver.
"Now," the man said. "If I were to ask you to stand, would you?"
Stu frowned. "Spare change?" he asked.
The man's gaze hardened into steel and Stu had to look away. But as he stared bleakly down the street, he sensed the man kneel down beside him.
"Stu," the man said. "I have an offer to make."
Stu's head swung around to give the man a wide-eyed look of desperation. How did this man know his name?
"I can see how far you have fallen. I can see how muffled you have become. I can see how hard this will be for you. But I will be there to support you as you begin to dig yourself out. If we have a deal, I want you to stand."
Stu wished to speak. He wished to say more than his usual statement. He wished to explain himself. He wished to ask questions. The man gave him a hard look; it was a measuring look and Stu could feel it sizing him up. He looked into the man's eyes.
The eyes shone. "See," the man whispered. "You have some strength left in you after all."
Stu took a few moments to gather himself as the man watched with a challenging gaze, and then finally, Stu stood up.