By Zoanna Pearson
He babbled to himself. No teeth, dirty clothing, unshaven, cradling two small duffle bags to his chest. Sitting on a bench inside the grocery store, air-conditioned comfort on a 90-degree day.
My peripheral vision caught him, and we made eye contact for an instant. “Ma’am, some money?”
I quickly shifted my eyes to the doorway, parking lot, and safety. In my car, the haunting eyes were watery, weary, confused, and ashamed.
Yet buried deep in his soul, a spark of dignity.
Sitting in my car, I heard the words, “You go to Africa, you are going to China, yet you walk by a soul in your own town?”
I began to line up my excuses. I’m in a hurry; my husband is waiting, and I don’t have time. Is it safe? He is probably a druggie.
“There is no excuse…go back.”
And so I returned, walking up to him, I said, “I’m sorry I walked by you. Will you forgive me?”
Ignoring my feeble apology, he said, “I just need some money for food, Ma’am,” not speaking of forgiveness.
“May I take you to breakfast, sir?”
“I’d like that, he replied.”
And that is how we ended up at the fast food restaurant across the street; me, an elderly white woman, and he, a well-used black man somewhere shy of 65 years old.
Walking up to the counter to place our order, we were met with an icy stare and a visible backing off as if to put distance between the clean and the unclean.
By this time, I knew the Roamer’s name was Ricky; an interesting coincidence that my son-in-law, who died at 63, was also named Ricky.
“Order what you’d like, Ricky,” and he did; a sausage, egg & cheese biscuit, hash browns, and a large coffee with five creams and five sugars.
After taking our orders, the employee leaned over the counter and, in a stage whisper, said, “Would you mind if I put this in a to-go box? We don’t like ‘his kind’ in the restaurant.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind. Ricky is my guest, and we will be dining together. Please add a $5.00 gift card to the order.”
Shocked? Yes. Until I remembered my reaction was no different when I walked by him in the grocery store, the chasm deep protecting the distance between us.
Waiting for the order, I asked him how he happened to be homeless. He told me sadly that his wife died two years ago, and his world fell apart. Truth? Who knows? It doesn’t matter.
“Feed my lambs.”
Ricky didn’t eat his breakfast; putting the gift card in a worn wallet, he neatly wrapped his breakfast in a napkin and put it in his duffle. He said he might be hungrier later.
But that is not the end of the story.
I drove home feeling both profoundly sad and warmly satisfied. When I opened my front door, my husband called out, “Just in time, I am taking the quiches out of the oven right now.” I had forgotten that he said he would bake a couple of small quiches while I went to the store, and we’d have breakfast together.
“Oh, Chuck, I’ve already eaten. I forgot.”
And then I told him the story of Ricky, the Wanderer, and the five creams and five sugars.
Never a scowl, never a hint of retribution or anger. “You did the right thing, Zoe,” my husband said. “You listened to what God was asking you to do.”
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