“I pick up glass”, he shouted. “I pick up garbage. Please…” The please was long and drawn out. The please went up at the “ease” part.
“I pick up glass. I pick up garbage. Please give me a quarter. I work hard”, he said. “I pick up glass. I pick up garbage.”
The first thing I noticed was the Styrofoam cooler. No lid. Light. Easy to carry. Inside it was filled with bits of glass and cigarette butts, twigs and grass. And then my eyes traveled from the cooler to the hand and up his arm to his face. His cheeks were bright. Fever bright. Running for a very long time bright. Christmas bright. And his hair was blond blond. White blond. Cut well at one time not so very long ago. His eyes were blue. China blue. Robin egg blue. Fragile blue.
“I pick up glass. I pick up garbage. I work hard. Give me a dollar. Please”.
I watched him for awhile and then went into the store where my companion was shopping and asked him for a dollar. “Give me a dollar”, I said as I held out my hand. My companion dug through his pockets and gave me four quarters, asked me no questions, and I went back into the street.
We’d gone to China-Town as a treat. We’d looked for a plate. I was collecting. We looked at bar-b-que duck hanging in the shop windows and finally bought half of one and some pork strips. I’d had a sweet treat and my companion had filled up on noodles and beef. The streets were full, packed tightly with all the colours of the rainbow and the twinkling roar of humanity just getting on with their day(s).
By the time I got back out into the street, the young man was gone. Disappointed I wandered briefly down and up the street and then came back outside the store to wait for my companion again. I leaned up against a parking meter. I was tired. I may have even laid my head down on that parking meter and closed my eyes for a few seconds.
“I pick up glass. I pick up garbage. I work hard. Give me a dollar. Please. I pick up glass. I pick up garbage.”
He worked his way up to where I was, dragging the Styrofoam cooler beside him and I walked towards him to put my four quarters into his hand. His hands were black. Black like your hands would be black if you crawled along the sidewalks and streets in China-Town. Black.
“I pick up glass. I pick up……”. Just as I put the four quarters into his cupped hand he said, “broken needles.”
I heard him and felt me stop.
What’s less than an instance?
Then I pressed the four quarters into his palm, stepped back and returned to my parking meter and turned round to look at him again. He turned to me, the quarters held in his outstretched hand, his fingers curled and continued.
“I pick up garbage. I have AIDS. I have two other diseases. I have hepatitis B. I pick up glass. I work hard,” and he turned back out to the people streaming past him on the street. “I care about little children.” Two small Asian girls decked out in party dresses walked by. A young woman put another quarter into his outstretched hand. He turned back to me.
“I have diseases.” And then back to the street, “I pick up glass. I pick up garbage. I work hard. Give me a dollar. Please.”
His head held stiffly, pointedly now turned away from me, his one hand stretched out beseechingly to the Street, I watched while his other hand curled around the five quarters, slid down his leg and slipped the coins into his shoe.
I watched this leaning against a parking meter. Tired. Surrounded by a stream of people, caught up in a canopy of noise, holding onto my new plate, waiting for my companion.
He turned back to me with his China Blue eyes, his flaming red Dutch Boy cheeks, his wild white blond hair, his styrofoam cooler, his black hands... just as my companion came out of the store and hauled me away.
“I pick up glass”, he shouted. “I work hard. Give me a dollar.