A few days ago, I was at a cafe late in the afternoon, sipping a coffee and reading. I glanced over at a table nearby, and saw a vaguely familiar face. A dignified looking older man, sitting by himself , a suitcase next to him, sipping a glass of wine. But I couldn’t place him. I kept thinking about it, would glance up occasionally, and he always seemed to be looking back at me, a kind of knowing glance. He seemed very content.
And then it dawned on me. There is a homeless man who I have seen for years on Polk Street. He typically is sitting in the sun, just off the street, with his suitcase. I have rarely seen him ask anyone for anything. I did give him some money once, I guess because I had seen him there for so long. He always seemed to be taking decent care of himself, I would see him reading, occasionally eating. He had an air of dignity about him, no small feat when much of your day is spent sitting on the sidewalk.
This was him. He was here in the cafe, a number of blocks from where I was used to seeing him, having a glass of wine. When I glanced up at him again, he was looking directly back at me. And I thought for a moment, maybe he remembered, and he knew , that I knew, who he was. But whatever it was,the fact remained that instead of sitting outside on the sidewalk, he was here in the cafe, the most dignified person in the cafe otherwise peopled with the usual collection of solitary souls staring at their laptops for hours, looking for something, or perhaps someone. For an hour or two, I at least imagined he had escaped his usual life , had ventured up the hill, and was enjoying a glass of wine, like any other swell.
I had to go, and he was clearly going to stay here as long as he could nursing his glass of wine. (as he should). I thought of saying something, but what? I decided to let him continue reigning supreme, buddha-like , over the room. I made a note to pay him a visit back at his familiar haunt, see if he needed anything. He didn’t need anything at this moment, it was the rest in the cafe that did.