“Hi, my name’s Neil!” says the guy, loudly, as he turns the corner right in front of me and moves into my way.
I’m walking home from work, it’s just after 5 p.m. and starting to get dark, and I have to stop because Neil is now blocking my path as I walk west along Adelaide at Church Street. He’s an older guy, maybe 60 or so, with wild grey hair peeping out from beneath a black toque. His clothes are in disarray, a bit too big for his medium frame, but they look fairly clean. His nose is running. A lot. And he has some sort of speech impediment which makes him slur some words slightly.
“Can I ask you something?” he says.
“Yes, of course,” I reply. He has some kind of cotton bag over one shoulder, holding it there with one hand which is holding a wad of cash, right at eye level! He must have about $80 or $90 in his fist; a combination of fives, tens and twenties. He holds his other hand out toward me, as if to shake. I stare down at it for a second and, keeping mine firmly in my coat pockets, ask “What can I do for you?”
“Well, I want to shake your hand!”
I don’t want to shake his, so I ask “Is there something else you want?”, my hands still in my pockets. I kind of know where this is going.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” he says as he pulls his bag open slightly, allowing me to see inside.
I find this a bit freaky and I won’t look in the bag. He’s standing right up to me, very close, too close for comfort, but I refuse to be cowed as I stay where I am and then say, a little too loudly, “Of course you’re not!”.
“I don’t have anything in my bag to hurt you with.”
I’m still not looking into his bag. “I understand. Now what can I help you with?”
Neil closes his bag and looks at the money in his other hand. “I have some money here, but I’m just a bit too short to buy myself a pair of gloves. I need some more money to buy gloves. Can you give me some money?”
“I’m sorry, I have no change on me. I have no cash at all on me, in fact,” which was true.
But I hadn’t even finished my apology when Neil’s eyes flicked away from mine and started surveying the other passers-by. I didn’t exist any more as he pulled a pair of thick, warm-looking gloves out of his coat pocket and wiped his nose on them. Then he just turned away without saying another word and walked off down the street, slowly.
I watched him go for a second or two, then breathed a sigh, rolled my eyes, and turned away to continue walking home along Adelaide.