It had been cloudy all morning, and by early afternoon it began to rain. From my fifth floor window, I could see that the sidewalks were emptying of all but the few pedestrians who hurried along, sheltering under umbrellas or coats pulled up over their heads; and the homeless who were normally spread out along the street had taken refuge inside parking garages and in the vestibules of the restaurants that would eventually ask them to leave.
I called down to the hotel lobby to ask if they lent out umbrellas which they did, if they had them in stock, which they didn’t; but by the time I was ready to walk to dinner, the rain had stopped; and by the time I left the hotel, the streets were again crowded with locals coming home from work, with tourists looking for a place to eat, and with the homeless, one of whom called out to me as I passed, “Well, if it isn’t the man in black!”
I was wearing black slacks, a black polo shirt, and though my sportcoat had some gray in it, it too was predominantly black. I hadn’t set out to be dressed so in black, but that’s how I’d ended up.
“Do you mean like, Johnny Cash?” I asked, stopping because I was oddly embarrassed by what he’d said. “It’s not like I’m carrying a guitar.”
“I can see that,” the homeless man said, “but Johnny probably doesn’t carry his guitar with him either when he goes to dinner?”
“Not unless he likes to sing while he waits for his food.”
“Right you are,” the homeless man said. “Could the man in black spare some change?”
Instead of reaching into my pocket, I opened my wallet, took out a couple dollars, and placed the in his cup. He didn’t thank me. I think he resented my giving him more money that he’d asked for, like I was patronizing him, which I suppose I was.
A tiramisu dessert came with dinner, and I had it boxed and then, because it had again begun to rain, had it wrapped in a plastic bag. The restaurant lent me an umbrella that I’d said I’d return the next day.
I had intended to take another route back to the hotel, so that I wouldn’t pass the homeless man, but I assumed that the rain would again chase him back inside, but I was wrong. He was still on the street, an army fatigue coat swung up over his head and his hands inside cotton mittens.
When I reached his space on the sidewalk, he was sleeping, his head tilted down slightly and rain dripping from the bill of the baseball cap he was wearing. I stood there for a moment, and then I set the tiramisu next to him on the sidewalk. I felt ridiculous doing that, and as I walked away, I thought that as a man in black I was less of a Johnny Cash figure and more of a foolish Zorro wannabe–swooping in with tiramisu in hand to aid the dessert-less of the world.
The next day I walked by the same spot on the sidewalk. The homeless man was gone, but in the spot where he’d been sitting, blown up against the fence that’d been at his back, was the box from the restaurant, open and empty.