Lean on Me

“ATTENTION LADIES and GENTLEMAN!” shouted a male voice on the D train. “My name is Ronald McDonald and I am selling candy today…” No one seemed to be paying attention, except for me. I looked up to see a young black teenager holding a carton full of M&M’s.

“…I am NOT selling candy for a school fundraiser or a basketball team! I am selling candy to keep myself out of gangs and off the streets so that I DON’T get shot 50 times by the police,” the black teenager continued. The riders chuckled. I had seen kids like him before and normally gave a dollar donation for candy but not today. I wasn’t in the mood and I was feeling fat.

It was a typical crowded morning on my way downtown. There was one free spot and it was beside me. When the train doors slid open at the next stop, a homeless man with long shaggy dreds walked in, eyed the seat next to me and plopped down. He was wearing filthy flip-flops with soiled socks. He must have been drunk or extremely tired because he immediately dozed off and slowly started to fall over. Anyone would have been mortified, but for some reason I felt sorry for him so I didn’t budge.

I could feel his hair draping over my left shoulder. As soon as the train stopped, his head lunged to the right, hit my shoulder, then bounced back and leaned towards the left. After the second time, I contemplated if I should move or not. There were no other seats and I didn’t feel like standing. I looked around and noticed that people were watching me, flinching every time the man’s head moved closer. They wanted to see if I was going to move.

A Hispanic man sitting across the aisle looked at me anxiously and said, “Can you speak Spanish?”

“Yes,” I said.

The Hispanic man shook his index finger at the sleeping homeless guy and stated, “This man, no good!”

Ok…that was in English, I thought to myself. Everyone nearby looked at the Hispanic man, glanced over at me, then watched the snoring homeless man’s head inch closer.

While the train slowly screeched to a halt, I winced as I felt him bouncing off my shoulder. A woman in front of me got my attention as she got up to leave. I pushed against the homeless man to sit him upright and quickly switched seats.

I was relieved to get away from him. The Hispanic man looked pleased and gave me an approving nod. How did he know that the bum was “no good”? I stared at the homeless man, who was now on the verge of falling forward on the floor. I felt there must be more to him than his unkempt dreds, flip-flops and socks. What’s his story? He looked like he was in his early thirties and fairly healthy–besides possibly being a narcoleptic. Maybe he wasn’t homeless at all.

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