The Cardboard Sign
The cardboard sign did not stand there on the sidewalk alone of its own accord, but the thousands of us who drove past it for three days in a row might as well have thought so.
He had been standing there most of the week, right at 5:oo, when people were leaving work and hurrying through the masses of people to get home. Brake lights and tires squealing and the blast of angry horns were what he experienced at that time of day.
The sign said, “Will work for food. Hungry”. Same kind of sign you can see in any big city any day of the week. Same faceless person holding it. The person you don’t look at. The person you really don’t want to catch your eye lest you feel like shit for not stopping and offering money.
I mean, who knows about these people? Do they really need food, or will they take your money and go buy their next cheap bottle with it? You work hard every day for your pay, why should you give it to someone who would rather bum off the sidewalk by preying on peoples conscience with their cardboard sign?
The third day he stood there was one of those days where it was all I could do to maintain control at work. For 9 hours I had bit my lip and forced myself to not breakdown. Once I was in my car however, once I was out of eyesight of the people I work with who see my mask everyday and think I have it all together, I finally burst like a damn after a torrential week of rain.
Part of my trip home I am literally fighting to see the road through the tears that I can no longer control. Tears expressing my frustration and my rage at having to live each day by convincing myself it is the right thing to do when in reality all I really want is to go to sleep and never wake up.
When I got to his intersection, there he was. I no doubt look 100 times worse than I feel, and I know my mascara has run down and smeared into the makeup on my cheek. Temporarily blinded by the pain deep in my soul, I looked at him. For that split second, I allowed our eyes to meet. The same eyes I had succeeded in avoiding every other day this week.
That faceless man, the one holding the cardboard sign, had a flicker of understanding on his face when he looked at me. I could see so plainly the change that so quickly came to his expression. He held his hand up to his forehead, as men in the old cowboy movies would do when they tip their hat at the women they passed in town. He held it there until I acknowledged the gesture by nodding my head at him.
That happened to me over a month ago. I cannot get out of my mind how that faceless man and I had a commonality that neither of us knew until that moment. It reminds me how much alike we all could be given different circumstances.
I have a steady job. I have never had to beg for money, or a meal. I’ve never had to stand on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign saying I would work for food.
Ironically however, we both find ourselves in a big city, faceless, avoided & alone.