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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 23, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 23, 2019



It was just another Friday. Like any other Friday. Like any other Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, truth be told. One weekday was pretty much like the other. Saturday was different. Nobody rushing off to their offices and coming home weary. Sundays there were still a few faithful who made the trek to mass or Sunday services. But this was just another Friday and there was nothing special about it.

And nothing special about the man who sat on the stoop. He’d sat there every day. He sat there for so long, people didn’t even notice him anymore. He was so much a part of the stoop he might as well be made of stucco. His clothes, dusty shades of brown, blended in with the masonry and his worn, leathery skin was as dusky as the aged bricks on the steps. His amber eyes were watery and tired, but sharper than people realized, taking in so much more than they knew.

They didn’t know his name. They didn’t care to ask. Didn’t care period. They didn’t know if he was a resident of the building or a homeless person. They just knew he was always at his post on the stoop. He didn’t speak to them and they didn’t speak to him. Everybody was fine with that arrangement.

He watched silently as they hurried off to work, as they ran their errands, as they popped into the bodega on the corner for coffee, cigarettes and lottery tickets, as they came home with their take-out dinners and trudged home, exhausted from another disheartening day at a dead-end job.

Today he watched a young, Latino boy in black sweats and a black hoodie walk around the street opposite the bodega and look around nervously. This was the fourth day he’d been here. The boy wasn’t from this neighborhood, the man was certain. The boy walked up to the neighboring stop and stood with his back to the old man, still watching the bodega. After a few minutes, he pulled up his hood.

“It’s not worth it.”

The boy jumped. “What?” He spun around, looking for the source of the voice. For the first time, he noticed the old man. He wondered how long he’d been sitting there.

“It’s not worth it. Whatever you need the money for, it’s not worth it,” the old man expounded.

“What the hell do you know, old man?” spat the boy, defiantly.

“I know the time in prison isn’t worth whatever is in that cash register on their best day.
 Nothing is. Don’t ruin your life for a few hundred dollars.”

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’. I’m just standing here,” the boy retorted. “Mind your own business.”

The old man shrugged. “If that’s all you’re doing, fine. But I’ve seen you here the past few days and I don’t believe that’s all you’re doing. And I’d hate to see you ruin your life.”

“What the hell do you care? I ain’t nothing to you?” the boy asked.

“True, but I’d still hate to see you ruin your life.”

“Ain’t none your business,” the boy replied stubbornly.

The old man sighed. “Look, I’ve seen what prison can do to a boy like you. You think you’re tough. And out here on the street, to a degree, you are. But on the inside, you have no idea what ‘tough’ really is. You’ll be chewed up and spit out in your first week and you’ll never be the same. I’ve seen it again and again.”

“You done time?” the boy asked, with a jerk of his chin.

“Let’s just say I’ve been in a position to see a lot of ugly things,” the old man replied cryptically. “Please, tell me, what do you need the money for? It’s not drugs, you don’t look like a junkie.”

The boy scoffed. “I ain’t no meth-head.”

“I didn’t think so. What then?”

The boy scuffed the toe of his high-top sneaker against the black-top of the sidewalk, hesitating. “My mom,” he said at last. “She hurt her back. Lost her job. We can’t pay the rent.”

The old man nodded thoughtfully. “How many are you?” he asked.

The boy shrugged, still looking at the ground. “Me, my mom, my Abuela and my little brother.”

Still nodding, the old man asked: “How far behind are you on the rent?”

The boy shrugged again and hesitated. “Four months. The landlord says if we don’t start paying this week we have to leave.”

The old man sighed. He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a small pad of paper and a pen. He scribbled something on the pad. “You’ve been here the past few days. Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“Don’t matter if I go or not,” the boy said dejectedly.

The old man stopped writing and looked at him sadly. “Go back to school. You’re going to need that diploma if you ever want to do anything.  Here,” he said, holding out a slip of paper. The boy walked to the old man and took the piece of paper. “Don’t open it,” the old man instructed. “Bring it to Rafael in the bodega.”

The boy’s head snapped up. “But…”

The old man held up his hand. “It’s okay. I’m not going to tell him that you thought about robbing him. Just bring him the note and then come back to me.” The boy looked questioningly at the old man and then at the note. He took a moment to make up his mind, then he decided he had nothing to lose. He couldn’t get arrested just for thinking of holding up a store. He turned and jogged to the bodega on the corner.

The old man watched him go. He knew Rafael would honor his request. He had helped Rafael when Rafael needed help getting started and Rafael was always grateful. Plus, he knew Rafael was always ready to help a troubled teen. He had been one himself.

While he waited, the old man marveled at the fact that people had passed by him and the boy during their exchange and been completely oblivious to everything that was going on. It never failed to amaze him that people could shut out everything their fellow man was going through around them. He sat and watched as mothers pushed their strollers to the park, as old women did their shopping and old men went to pick up cigars on their way to feed the pigeons and play chess in the park. He scribbled something else on his notepad while he waited for the boy.

The boy came bounding back, his face a mixture of delight and confusion. “Rafael said he’d give me an after-school job and he gave me an advance on two weeks pay so I could give the landlord something.” His voice was so excited.

The old man smiled. He handed the boy the other slip of paper. “You know the fashion district?” he asked.

The boy shook his head. “Not very well.”

“What about your mom?”

“I think so. Probably,” the boy replied.

“Give her this note. There’s a name and address on there. Have her take it to that address and ask for that man. Give him the note, he’ll give her a job and a letter for your landlord stating that she’s now gainfully employed.”

The boy stared at the old man with his mouth open. “How can you do all of this? And why?”

The old man gave him a secret smile. “Because I was kind to people when they needed it most. I helped them when I could, and I never judged them. When I was younger, and in a position to be useful to others, I did my best to give people a second chance. Now that I’m an old man, I know people all over the city who are grateful for that kindness, understanding and help I showed them, and they’re willing to repay it by helping others when I ask them. I don’t ask often. I don’t take advantage of their generosity. As to why, I don’t want to see you ruin your life when I can help you.”

The boy sat next to him on the stoop. “You worked in a prison, didn’t you?”

The old man nodded. “In a juvenile facility.

The boy just sat and stared at nothing for several minutes. The old man left him alone with his thoughts.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” the boy said finally.

“Live a good life. Be good to others. Help someone else when they need it,” the old man said.

The boy stood up to leave. ‘What’s your name?”

“Preston Earle,” he said.

“Thank God for you, Preston Earle.”

“No need, son.” The boy turned to leave. “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Manuel. Manny,” he replied.

“Have a good life, Manny,” Preston said.

They waved goodbye and the old man resumed his watch on the stoop. It was just another Friday.



© Copyright 2020 Kerry Rockwood White. All rights reserved.

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