The food bank

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A lesson for life

Submitted: November 09, 2016

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Submitted: November 09, 2016

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The food bank

You can learn a lot at the food bank. I did.

Folks received direct eye contact and compassion and took away food. Many came from the book of Down and Desperate; drained in every way, faces drawn in stony resolve. They had, in reality or by disguise, accepted indignity. Some smiled occasionally; tenuously and faintly, or jested with awkwardness. Tough faces sometimes bore bruises. Others, soft and gentle, held eyelids heavy with tears. Things had happened in their lives that I could barely imagine. With a heart too soft for this business, I would sometimes lean across our wooden counter and touch a hand or an arm, naively struggling to express support and understanding.

The lives of every one of these people could have been be the subject of a profound, thick and candid book born of anonymous accounts of love and joy, achievements and failures, secrets and insecurities, care and abuse, and hopes and hopelessness. And eventually perhaps, resurrection or redemption. More profound nevertheless, were the characters behind the counter; that is, on my side. Their life books were almost tangible, probably because I grew to know them better. In one occasion, I turned the cover of one, looked inside and learned something.

It was a day when a tall and skinny man appeared on our side of the counter. He was sliding along at the back of things, between the vegetables and bread, beyond the center of conversation and activity. He seemed flat from back to front and stooped a bit, like a slightly curved envelope. My impulse was to post him through a mail box slot. His pants were cinched in by a thin belt, hoisted well above the hips and a tie with a large uneven knot joined him, neck to waist like a wide, decorative  strap. The tie sported giant, hypnotic brown circles and was tucked in firmly under his belt, giving the appearance of being glued to his shirt. It wasn't, for sometime through the morning he plucked it out and flicked it towards me, announcing with pride that it had been a bargain; only $5.00 at Mission Village.

The owner of the tie was Phil and he spoke loudly, with a slight slur, as the hearing impaired are prone to do. His lips moving strangely too, as though with more movement than his words really required. In doing so, he generated a slight haze of spit over his audience. I wondered, troubled, if Phil had some congenital condition or perhaps, had suffered a stroke. His nose was long and hooked and a small green tartan fedora rested on the back of head like an ornate bottle cap. A shelf of hair below the hat had become part of the support between Phil and the fedora and under that shelf, curls of rebellious hair danced above his collar. With his outerwear shed, Phil had the appearance of a somber Marabou stork. I am ashamed to admit that my immediate response was to assume a strong patronizing approach to this man.

Towards the end of the morning as the throng began to thin and packing of groceries became less frenetic, we gathered around the counter, talking and considering an early close before an impending snow storm. Phil must have heard my accent and asked where I was from. “South Africa!” he sprayed, turning all  heads. “How fascinating. I’m writing an article on the Anglo Boer war!”

I was gobsmacked, both literally and figuratively. He regaled me and the dumbfounded bystanders with a litany of facts on South African history of which many, I was unaware. Out poured stories on General Delarey, Cecil Rhodes, General de Wet, the battle of Paardeberg and how the Irish contingent supported the Boers and hated the Brits. Phil was a font of information on the geography and history of South Africa. He was animated, clearly intelligent and radiated warmth and sincerity.

Phil left his mark on me. I had plenty to learn from fellow man; among these was to be less judgmental, less superficial and more open minded. What I needed, it was clear, was more time at the food bank.


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