It was Monday the 1st of January 2024. I decided to talk a walk late in the evening, because I didn’t have much energy for anything else. The night before had been a rather late one.
As I walked through my neighborhood – which was for the most part deserted – I came across a young man seated on a lawn outside a house about two blocks from where I live. He stopped me and asked whether I had any food for him. Negative. He asked me whether I couldn’t find him some food anywhere. He didn’t want any money. He only wanted food. He hadn’t eaten since the previous day.
“What’s your story?” I asked him. “Why are you out here?” I’m always on the lookout for stories, and homeless people usually have interesting ones.
He said he had just gotten a job as a security guard in the first week of December. It had only been three weeks since he started working, so he hadn’t yet received his first salary, which was why he was hungry.
“Where do you sleep?” I asked.
He’s spend the nights on the pavement outside a well-known bakery that was a few streets away. That part of the story made sense, because I’d noticed many homeless people would spend their nights outside that bakery.
“Where do you wash?” I asked.
“At Brooklyn Mall,” he answered. “I get there early in the morning and go to the washroom before anyone else gets there.”
That part of the story also made sense. Arriving at the mall really early a couple of times, I had come across people carrying out their ablutions in the public bathrooms.
“What do you have in your bag?” I asked, pointing at the backpack he had beside him.
“Just my toiletries and my uniform,” he said. He opened it and showed me its contents: a navy blue guard’s uniform, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste.
What really caught my attention was the word he used. “Toiletries.” That was the actual word that he used. I had never heard someone on the street use that word. It made me realise I was listening to a true story. All its parts hung together and made sense.
I gave him my home address and told him to meet me there in thirty minutes and I’d give him some left-overs.
It’s not often that I come across stories that hang together so well when I speak to beggars or homeless people. Usually, when a story is entirely cooked up on the spot, there are certain gaping holes and inconsistencies. Not so with this particular guy. His tale reminded me of a well-written story: it just hung together so well.