Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

After Lunch

March 3, 2016


Jerry sat down at the end of the bench, glad to be off his feet for a while.  He just sat there for what seemed like hours, but in reality was just a few minutes.  He was tired and hungry, but for now he was warm.

The wind had, finally, stopped blowing.  Jerry had never been to Cheyenne before, but he had heard about it in some of the camps along the way.  Every person he met had told him about the wind, and that he had to do all he could to stay out of it.  He spent the last couple nights under a bridge not too far from the rail yards. He liked it there because he could hop a train in a hurry if he had to, but most of all because it was out of the wind.

Today it was different. The wind had stopped, the temperature was in the 60s, and he was sitting on this bench across from the courthouse with the warm sun in his face, and a bag lunch right next to him.  He reached into the brown paper bag and rummaged around a bit until he found the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he was looking for.

He unwrapped the sandwich in the slow and deliberate manner of someone who knew he had a great prize and didn’t want to hurry it along, knowing that once it was over there would be little left to lo look forward to.  At last unwrapped, he took a minute to examine the bread, white as snow with a light brown crust, the soft and smooth texture making him recall school lunches when he was a child.  As he took that first bite, he let the sweet and salty taste of the peanut butter and grape jelly roll around in his mouth like a sommelier determining the best wine for that evening’s fare.

While he was savoring the sticky sweet sensation of the layers between the bread, a man clearly 20 years older than Jerry’s 35 sat down on the other end of the bench, leaned back and let out a sigh.  Jerry didn’t pay much attention to the other man, aside from the curious nature of his decision to sit next to Jerry.

Jerry had always been a conscientious dresser and almost compulsively clean.  When he joined the Marines, he learned that it wasn’t always possible to shower every day, and bathrooms were not always available when nature called.  Now he was anything but clean, and a shower was a once-in-a-while thing, taken when it was too cold to sleep outside and he was forced into a shelter.  When he sat on a bench in the middle of the day, people went out of their way to not sit next to him.  The stranger didn’t seem to care.

The stranger wore a suit and tie.  His white shirt glistened like the bread of Jerry’s sandwich, while the top button on his shirt was undone and the tie was askew of the collar and pulled down a bit to relieve some of its inherent tension.  He left his coat on, even though it was quite warm and the coat was a liability at this point, the reason for damp underarms and dark sweat spots where the stranger’s stomach rolled up a little towards the sky.  He wasn’t fat by any means, but he was obviously well-fed and not close to appearing malnourished.

As Jerry chewed his sandwich, he looked in his brown paper bag and found a small bag of potato chips, a bottle of water and a banana.  Where was the cookie? He had heard from the others in the camp that this church put cookies in the lunch bags, but it was nowhere to be found in this bag.  Jerry had a sweet tooth, and he really wanted the cookie to finish off this lunch.

After he had given up hope of finding the cookie, he said “Damn” just loud enough for his bench-mate to hear him, which gained his attention.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine” said Jerry.  “Just no cookie.  First time that’s ever happened to me.  I guess I could go back and ask for one, but I don’t want to get up from here.”

The stranger looked at Jerry for a few seconds, then averted his gaze and looked at the building across the street.

“Cookie, huh?  I’m a pie man myself.  Love them. Any kind.  Apple, cherry, blueberry, mincemeat, rhubarb – every one of them is better than the other.  My wife – greatest pie maker ever.  Wish I had some right now, because watching you eat is making me crave a big slice of her apple pie with some ice cream on top, dripping down the warm sides of the pie, mixing with the apples and the sweet sauce in between two layers of the finest and lightest pie crusts this side of heaven.  Sure wish I had some.”

Jerry didn’t respond right away, but finished his sandwich and took a drink of water.  Then he said “Pie does sound good.  Lots better than those cookies they give us. “

The stranger turned his gaze away from Jerry, looking blankly at the big Federal building across the way.  While he was looking, he asked Jerry why he was eating his lunch on the bench, and asking where he got it.  He explained the whole thing to the stranger, letting him know that there was more if he wanted to get a sack lunch himself.  The stranger thanks Jerry for the information, but declined to the offer.

“I’ve already eaten, thanks.  I had some lunch sitting at my desk.”

Jerry then asked the stranger his name, to which he answered “Mike.”

“Where do you work, Mike?

“In the courthouse across the street.  I’m a lawyer. I work for the Federal government.  I usually eat at my desk and then come over here and sit on this bench and think.”

“What do you think about?”

“Mostly my wife.  32 years together before she died last year.  She worked at a bank down the street and we would meet here on sunny days.  She’d pack a lunch for both of us, I’d get us some coffee and we’d sit here and talk about our kids, our grandchildren, what we were going to do when we retired in a few years.  One day she found a lump where it shouldn’t be, and just like that she was gone.  I still can’t get past the fact that she’s not here sitting next to me.  It’s the loneliest, saddest feeling I’ve ever had.”

Jerry didn’t say anything.  It’s not that he didn’t care, he just didn’t know what to say.

Mike broke the silence. “Sorry to spill so much of my personal life on your lunch.  It just bubbled up.  I don’t even know your name and I’ve just told you the most important thing in my life. So now you tell me – what’s your name? How did you end up here?”

Jerry thought about it for a minute, then began his answer.

“Jerry. My name’s Jerry.  I sat here because I have found out that when I sit in front of a church the cops don’t bother me, don’t hassle me about what I’m doing and where I got the food.  Just cause a guy hasn’t shaved in a while, and his clothes aren’t spotless, they think they can push me off and make me leave town just by making things rough on me.

“I never thought I would be that guy in the dirty clothes eating a free lunch from a church.  I was a sergeant in the Marines.  Fought in Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan 4.  That last tour in Afghanistan – I saw things no man should ever see.  My best friend was with me on patrol when suddenly an RPG came out of nowhere and hit him.  He was there one second, and gone the next.  I couldn’t hear anything from the explosion, and I got knocked over by the impact. Shrapnel buried in my arms, legs, face.  I spent three months in a hospital in Germany recovering.  Came back to the States and could not go back to where I was before I left.  Now I sleep outside, by myself.  I come to places like this when I get hungry or cold.”

Now it was Mike’s turn to be quiet.  After a full 5 minutes of silence, he turned to Jerry and said:

“Jerry, do you like pie?”

“Yeah. Been a long time since I had any. “

“Since you didn’t get a cookie in your lunch, how about you and me go get some pie?”

Jerry took his empty brown sack, placed it in the trash can next to the bench, and left with Mike to get some pie.


%d bloggers like this: