He rubbed the stump where his leg used to be. It had never healed quite right. He had to be careful to not reopen the wound. The light turned yellow and cars slowed to a stop alongside of him. His wheelchair creaked in the rain as he shifted his weight. He wiped at his mouth with a rough black sleeve smearing the snot around his face, not really wiping anything off. He used to care about things like that. He would search for a clean spot on his coat. But in the rain on the street, there was no clean spot. He rubbed the stump where his leg used to be.
The light turned green and the cars flew past him. He had wet toes, wet hands, and wet fingers. The wet crawled up the pants of his one good leg. His butt was sore from always sitting on it. He had purposely been ignoring the wound that had started to grow there. He tried not to move too much, that would only make the coughing start.
The light changed and cars pulled up and stopped. He sat at the red light holding up his sign. The cardboard was starting to crumble in his hands at the edges, the words in black marker started to smear.
Green light, yellow light, here it came; the same car every day. A big black suburban with tinted windows. Every day it stopped at his light. And every day it splashed water up from the gutter and sprayed him. He winced as it happened again.
What kind of a person would get their jollies from torturing a one-legged homeless man? What kind of a person would do that? He pictured a young man, a teenager full of pride and indestructible youth. His hair spiky and clothes brand new. White basketball shoes that will never see a court, purposely-torn jeans that cost more than the man on the street will ever have at one time. He spat in anger. He rubbed the stump where his leg used to be. The wound had never healed quite right.
He slept in his chair again that night. He spent his earnings on a bottle of whiskey. It kept him warm all night while the rain raged on. He found a spot under an overhang. It was muddy and smelled bad, but that just meant no one would bother him. He picked up some more cardboard that was lying in the gravel and covered his leg and stump. He pulled the cardboard and his layers of jackets closer around him and closed his eyes. The whiskey in his gut warmed him. His head felt a little lighter. A little relief from the constant reminder of reality. With the whiskey in him, the mud and gravel melted away. The wet didn’t bother him. The sore that was growing on his butt didn’t hurt at all. Wrapped in the warm glow of alcohol, he fell asleep.
The next morning he was back at the streetlight. The rain had at least let up a bit. Now it only sprayed a mist. Light fog filled the air. Then here came the suburban, dark and terrible. The dirty spray from the street hit his wheelchair this time. His left arm was soaked now. He pictured inside the car. Where it was warm, the heaters blasting full. The occupants all drinking Starbucks and laughing, “Where shall we go to eat?” he pictured them say. “Lets go get a burger and some fries.” His own mouth watered at the thought, empty and cold. He rubbed the stump where his leg used to be. The wound had never healed quite right.
The next day the man’s head was pounding and his body ached. He had tried to make it to the shelter in time for a bed, but a tire on his chair had popped and this held him up. He missed the curfew and was stuck outside another night. He pushed himself up the hill to his spot at the traffic light. He saw it, the black suburban. Angry and violent it barreled up to the red light. The man braced himself for another attack. Instead, the driver’s side window rolled down. It revealed a middle-aged man, slightly balding and just a little overweight. He ushered him over.
“Please, my daughter made this for you. We see you out here every day and she wanted to do something for you.”
“I made you this sandwich!” came a little voice came from the back of the car. “And I made a card,” the tiny voice said.
“Here sweetie, let me give it to him,” the father said, reaching into the back and taking something.
“Here you go.” He held out a package for the man to take. It was covered in red construction paper and tied with purple string. Curious, the man rolled forward towards the car. It was within his reach now, but he hesitated.
“It’s ok,” the man reassured him. “She worked really hard on it.”
“Thank you,” the man tried to say.but all that came out was, “Humph- Ugh”
“You’re welcome,” the man in the car said. He spoke to him as if they were at a bank and he had given up his place in line. The man on the street looked dumbfounded at the package in his hands and at the man in the suburban.
“Have a nice day,” he heard the tiny voice from the back say.
Then the light turned green and they drove away. Their car kicked up some water as it passed by, but the man on the street really didn’t mind. He rubbed the stump where his leg used to be.