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Tell Me A Tale by Michael Kiwanuka
I was actually one of those people that left the office late. Way after anybody else with a life did. I was always in there working my head off trying to make something of myself.
I armed the alarm as I entered the door code. The code always seemed to make me laugh, it was “Lucy”. I always laughed because Lucy happened to be the only girlfriend I ever had that broke up with me. And she had done it because of my dedication to work and not having any time for her. Oh well.
I straightened my pea coat as I fixed my laptop bag that was strapped around my neck and headed into the cold of the night. It was a few minutes past 10pm.
Cooped up at my desk, I worked on report after report.
I think I sometimes had a fear of the outside world. How the world would view me. Or maybe it was just how my father would view me?
My father was a very difficult man to please. A great man in many ways but his lofty goals sometimes seemed unattainable. Since I moved here from Columbia, I have had to deal with culture shock but also a growing list of challenges. Being the first presents its unique challenges but being the son of a former Army general turned lucrative business man; it is expected in my culture that I turn out “perfect”.
To be a perfect example for all my siblings and the greatest role model to walk the face of the earth. All of this, as I doubled as the flag bearer for my family.
The pressure continued to weigh on me, so with my mother’s influence, I convinced my father to allow me to move to San Francisco. I was mandated to visit once a year and twice if, my schedule permitted.
Originally, I was going back home to Columbia twice a year. At least for the first few years but when I decided in my sophomore year of college to study journalism and not Economics, the trips became once a year at Christmas.
My father was understandably pissed but I needed to find myself.
I know he wanted me to take over his business in his retirement but it was not really what I wanted. Besides, he was still “young”, only in his mid fifties. He wasn’t letting go of control anytime soon.
I arrived at the sushi spot. It was this late night place; the only place open till 2am and the sushi was always great. I placed my order and sat in the corner of the room, at the end of the bench.
Fiddling with my phone, I finally got a chance to respond to text messages from the day as I tried to reconnect with my social life.
One of the hostesses walked up and asked me in a somewhat disrespectful tone,
“Did you say you wanted cream cheese?”
She asked. I looked up at her and forced a respectable smile and said,
“Yes, I do”
“You know it’s an extra $1.50, right?”
She chimed back. I took a deep breath and responded
“I know and yes, I’ll still like it in there”
I rolled my eyes as she turned away. The people in the restaurant didn’t always have the greatest customer service but something about that interaction seemed to annoy me.
I got my food shortly after and headed home. I was somewhat bothered about why she thought I couldn’t afford the cream cheese. At least that was what it sounded like.
But I guess that was also my biggest issue, I always worried about what people thought about me.
The food was good and sleep came shortly after. Something was off in my spirit though I couldn’t put my finger on it.
. . . . .
The interaction from the night before with the lady at the sushi place was still weighing on my mind. I lay there staring at the wall clock and counting the ticks as my mind wandered.
Did she think I was a bum?
What had I actually achieved in life and more?
These were the thoughts that disturbed my morning.
See I always knew I was born to do something great.
But somehow I spent the majority of the last two years of my life looking for purpose. Trying to understand who I was, what I should be and my imprint on the earth. I had only started interning at this publishing house trying to gain experience for my perceived future as an author and journalist.
I was maintaining a blog and trying to grow it while attempting to save a rapidly flailing relationship. I could feel that I needed that big thing.
My current state made it impossible to give all of me to my partner and all she gave to me was justified complaints. She loved me so she hung on a little longer that she should have in truth but I just had nothing to give.
I had the day off from work and I decided to go and do my laundry. Cleaning seemed to be soothing for me.
I stopped by the coffee shop to get a drink and some change for the coin operated machine and then I headed for the Laundromat.
The lady called out over the counter. She pronounced it wrong, like almost everyone does.
My name is actually pronounced “Ha’mess”.
Funny but that was how I would always write it out for people to say it when I first moved to the States.
It would turn out to be a symbolic act in doing my laundry. That day, as I removed the dirt and life’s physical deposits off my clothing, my interaction with a man who man in life would consider “dirty”, gave me the purest inspiration and clarity on what life, love and its manifestation should be. I saw life through his eyes.
Through the eyes of a completely socially discarded man that had so much more to offer but the rest of the world was not paying attention because they perceived him as less but he and I had a lot more in common than our attires allowed us to realize.
I parked my car with the rear end facing the door. I stepped out and began to lift my clothes into the basket.
Carrying them into the building, I set them on the table and began sorting them.
I was about halfway through when a lady walked in and seemed like she was about to approach me. It was clear she was homeless. From her dirty clothes to her tattered shoes, she practically fit the bill as a homeless woman.
I continued to sort my clothes, colored from whites as I awaited her approach. It came shortly after as neared me and said,
“Hello sir, could you please give me $.65cents to catch the bus home”
I smiled and shook my head. Not in disgust but in attempt to tell her not to lie to me. I was going to give her the money anyways, her lying to me just made me uncomfortable.
There is a certain stereotype that all homeless people are drunks or addicts and that is all they would use the money for.
I bought into the notion that day as I dug into my wallet to give her the money. I expected her to immediately cross the street and head to the liquor store. As I gave her the money, I noticed that she glanced at the rest of the money sitting in my wallet. I looked up at her with the three dollars I had given her clutched in her hand and almost said “don’t be greedy”.
I turned around and continued sorting my clothes. True to my thoughts, the lady crosses the street and heads for the liquor store. I shook my head in sadness and turned my head down.
A few minutes later, she emerges with a jug of milk. My sadness quickly turned to regret as I had wrongly judged this woman. I tried to shake it off but I couldn’t. I watched her cross the street to a bus stop and she sat next to a man.
Something in my heart continued to pick at me and I eventually took out the five dollar note in my wallet and walked out there. I handed it to the man and he thanked me as I walked away. It felt good to have followed my heart and done something good.
All my clothes were now in the washer as I headed to the back of the building to get into my car. I was about to enter when I heard a man say,
“Excuse me. Excuse me”
I turned around to look at him. It was the man I had just given the money to. I thought he had come to complain again or something. I was wrong. He said,
“Thank you for the money but I have a question. How did you know that I needed it?”
I smiled and said,
“I didn’t know you needed it. Something in my heart just pushed me to do it and so I did. I’m glad I was able to help.”
He looked down at the money and began to tear up.
“Able to help?”
He said as he fought back tears,
“You just gave us our dinner and breakfast tomorrow. Initially the money you gave us was only enough for my friend and I to buy some milk. We were going to beg for the rest to get some cereal. Thank you.”
I was now the one trying to fight back tears. I was so moved. I did not know that my simple obedience to my heart was a blessing to someone else.
In that moment I knew I had to do more as I said,
“You’re welcome and I’m glad I was able to help”
I just felt my interaction with this man was not complete until I said,
“Would you guys mind if I bought you a hot meal for dinner?”
The man’s eyes grew big. He definitely was not expecting it.
He agreed and rushed back to inform the lady he was with. He returned alone and ready to go. I asked about the woman and he told me that she was going to head to the shelter they were going to spend the night at to secure good beds for them.
It made sense with the plan being that he would bring back some food for her.
So into my car he went.
His clothes were dingy and dirty but not smelly. He looked like he hadn’t showered in days but his teeth were pearly white; well taken care of.
I began to get the vibe that this man was not the “average” homeless guy.
He said nothing as he sobbed in the passenger’s seat as I drove to a local Chinese restaurant. The plan was to order a lot of rice to last them a while.
I navigated the uncomfortable silence by playing music. I believe.
Just Want To Say Thank You by Louis Baker ft. Jordan Rakei
Was playing. I just wanted to get there as quickly as possible because I didn’t know what to say.
I was not afraid of having him in my car but I was worried about not being able to be emotionally available for him.
We arrived at the restaurant and he wiped his face. We sat down after we ordered and waited for the food. I looked over to him and he said,
“I’m sorry I was crying”
“It’s okay. We all have moments where we need to”
He nodded and said,
“I was crying because I wondered if there were people like you around the world being nice to my kids like you are to me”
My heart strings tugged. I almost cried I tell you.
Those were words so sincere but they also made me a bit sad.
“What is your name sir? I never asked”
“Darius. My name is Darius”
I then replied,
“Darius, you have children?”
He looked up at me and I quickly caught a glimpse of his eyes filled with tears. He bowed his head again and replied,
“Yes I do, I have two daughters.”
I almost lost it. Believe me.
All I had experienced in Columbia and my struggle with my dad, living on my own in a foreign country. I thought it had all made me stronger but I realized that it hadn’t. Moments like this made me feel so human on the inside.
I had my own emotional walls built up but the thought of two girls being homeless drove me to brink.
I gathered myself and said,
“Are they homeless too?”
He shook his head with assurance and confidence as he said,
“No no no! Never.
They are well taken care of. They live with their mother and grandmother… Doing just fine”
I let out a sigh of relief as he completed his sentence.
Not that his being homeless was anything to be relieved about but I felt some comfort in knowing his daughters were taken care of.
And then I asked the question that would open the doors to so much more and allow me to see a different world of life. I said,
“Darius, how did you become homeless and how long have you been homeless for?”
He looked at me and sighed. It was loud and loaded with such emotion and sadness.
He cleared his throat and sniffled a bit before saying,
“A little over eight months and these have been the worst months of my life. I lost everything!”
“Gambling? Addiction? Death?
What caused it?”
I asked in concern. He turned and said,
“Do you have enough time to hear it all?”
I nodded and said
“As long as you want, sir”
He said okay and then he started.
This is his story and it then becomes my story.
. . . . .
My name as you already know is Darius.
My wife was by far the most beautiful woman I had ever set my eyes on. She was beautiful in so many ways.
She inspired me and pushed me to be a better man each day. Her name is Kim.
I remember when I first got my last job.
I was working at a sports complex as a manager at the time of the offer, handling all the day to day operations but I never really wanted to leave.
I was making “okay” money and taking care of my responsibilities and saving up for a wedding.
When the job offer came, the first person I called was Kim.
I told her about it while underselling it so she wouldn’t make me explore it further.
But there was something about Kim. She had a way about her. She just somehow knew that I was underselling the job. She stopped me dead in my tracks and said,
“Darius, take the job. You have so much potential and deserve an opportunity to grow. Take the job and stop making excuses.”
There was nothing left to say at that point. The training for the new managerial position at the port of Oakland was tough but I continued to go with her support and love.
The weekend after my training was done. We took a trip to a little town about three hours away from where we lived. That trip would change my life even more than homelessness has.
We arrived and checked into our hotel. Took a short nap and then headed out to dinner.
I had made reservations at a place called “The Red House”. It had some of the finest Italian dishes I have ever seen.
The night was going well and we were enjoying ourselves and laughing. Till today, I think that was our best date ever.
It was nearing the end of the night and our food had finished when I reached into my pocket and said
She smiled and said,
Her beautiful smile lighting up the room; I said as I reached into my pocket.
“Kim, you are the greatest thing to ever happen to me…”
I flashed a puzzled look at Darius as he had stopped talking. Following his eyes, I turned to my right and noticed the hostess holding the Chinese food we had just ordered. I collected the bag from her and gave her my card. I set the bag down between Darius and I.
I smiled at Darius and said,
He was about to start up again when the lady returned with my card and again interrupted us. I took it from her and turned to Darius as I said with a smile,
IMPORTANT NOTICE: In January, I will stop writing on #WhatTheHeckMan. I’m sorry but JUST KIDDING!!!! What I will like to do for the beginning of the year though is to do a “Behind The Writer” edition of my blog. Basically, I will spend that day answering questions all of you have for me. So PLEASE LEAVE YOUR QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENT SECTIONS BELOW. AS MANY AS 10 per person. I’ll pick the TOP 24 I like and answer them for you all in that piece! I’M DOING THIS SO ALL MY READERS, SUPPORTERS AND WHOEVER ELSE IS LEFT CAN GET TO KNOW THE WRITER A BIT MORE AND UNKNOWN THINGS ABOUT ME.
I LOOK FORWARD TO IT!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you for reading and commenting. You are highly appreciated.
Lookout for my new series next week. Name will be dropped on Wednesday.
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