I wrote this story in the summer, and after editing help from my Aunt Kristine it has ‘sat on the shelf’. Today seemed a good day to revisit it and get it posted. Having a proper editor was fantastic, however, since she lives so far away and has so much of her own life to be involved in, it was tricky at times. I felt a bit guilty with my demands!
Ron sat on the steps, feet firmly on the sidewalk, his thin body in its shabby clothes warmed by the sun. He felt cheerful, which might have confused a passers-by if they had cared to notice. Suddenly he stood up and grabbing the empty cup beside him, walked out onto the street where the cars were held hostage by the red light.
He approached each car, cup held out. Most kept their windows tightly rolled up and turned their heads from his gaze. He didn't let that bother him though; he knew what it was like to be in their shoes. Sometimes though, a window would be lowered and a bit of change dropped into his cup, often along with a smile and kind word. Either way, he kept his cheerful demeanour, smiling and whistling as he zigzagged between windows.
The cycle of sitting and walking among the cars repeated only twice before he had enough for a coffee. Back on the steps, his legs stretched out on the sidewalk in front of him, he chuckled, thinking of the years of fancy Starbucks concoctions. Now the simple pleasure of a black coffee was enough to satisfy him.
Ron remembered how his colleagues would rib him for his easy laugh and positive outlook. Looking skyward he thanked the heavens for the gift that kept his life bearable now. He hadn't expected it, but life had dealt him a series of blows. First, there was the economic downturn that lost him a well paying job. Then, working behind the counter at McDonalds for minimum wage took its toll on his marriage. Her family didn't help the situation; too concerned with status and material possession's to be sympathetic, they blamed everything on him. The inevitable came and she divorced him, keeping the house. He moved into a cheap apartment. Not long after that, the job at McDonalds disappeared; high school kids on summer vacation would work for less.
He carried his resume everywhere, peddling himself to high tech firms, hamburger joints, and everything in between, but no one wanted a man in his fifties. Eventually his savings were depleted, leaving him with no rent money and he found himself standing at the door of the homeless shelter, all his possessions carried in a small bag. Where else was there to go?
He didn't have any family to speak of: his parents passed away years ago, and he couldn't remember the last time he spoke to his brother. Long hours at work hadn't left much time for a social life; the few friends he did have were embarrassed by his situation and failed to return his calls. Standing there, hand on the doorknob, he felt more alone than he ever had.
Stepping over the threshold, Ron was warmly greeted by another man. 'Welcome, I'm Dave', and glancing down at Ron's bag he added, 'you'll soon feel right at home'.
Even though they had never met, their mutual disadvantage created an instant rapport. It didn't take long for him to feel at home there, it was so much better than the dingy room he had shared with a bunch of cockroaches. It was better than being alone too. He thought of his new friends: some were alcoholics, trapped in a life of dependency; others had some sort of mental illness, struggling in their own heads; the rest were just like him, with a bunch of bad luck behind them. With nowhere else to turn, they clutched at the companionship of each other, desperate to be accepted.
Now, sitting on the steps with his legs stretched out on the sidewalk, he smiled again. He had to admit it, he was happier now than he had ever been with the half million dollar house and a wife nagging him to make more money. His life was simple.
Looking up at the traffic, he thought he saw a familiar face in a passing car - his hands shook enough to spill some coffee. She didn't turn her head, and he was glad. He could deceive himself into happiness, but not when it came to her. He tried to convince himself he didn't miss her, but he did; not the later years with all the nagging and fighting, but earlier, when they were in love and had everything. As his spirits started to drop he heard his mother' soft voice reminding him that every day is a gift. For a moment he was a small boy being held in his mother’s arms while she whispered encouragements in his ear.
He drank the last swig of his coffee and stood up, shaking his head to clear it. Memories of his past life started to fade again, and the singing of the birds in the tree next to him brought him back to the present. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the homeless shelter he smiled. A passer-by smiled back at him.