I was walking out of Mi Ranchito on Westminster when I noticed a man in a black jacket peering into the car window of two young men. The driver of the car leaned into his car and extended his hand towards the man, his fist full of coins.
I remembered what the woman sitting next to me in the restaurant had said to her son: she’d given a homeless man nachos and had been charged $5 for it on her bill. But weren’t they free, her son asked. I wondered if this was the man they had been talking about. I slowly crossed the street, watching him. He lingered by the car, talking to the guys. He appeared to be Central or South American.
I made it to my car just as the car drove off. I grabbed a few dollars out of my wallet and rolled down my window, waiting for him to approach. I waved him down while starting my car.
“Hola,” I said, handing him the folded bills. I expected the interaction to be brief, as they typically are, but he stayed, looking at the money in his hand.
“Apenas queria para un cafecito.” I only needed enough for a coffee.
“Ojala que si le alcance.” I do hope that’s enough, I said.
Well, with what you gave me, I’ll have enough for another one tomorrow, he said. I smiled and really needed to be on my way. He kept talking, mostly mumbling so I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Up close, his eyes were bloodshot and teeth small and separated.
“Nos vemos,” I said, grabbing my gear shift. See you later.
“Amén,” he said, so loudly and clearly that it startled me. He looked me right in the eyes and I knew that he meant it. If that amén meant that “yes, young lady I will see you again” or if it meant “thank you” or if he was blessing me or if it meant something entirely different, of that I am not sure. All I know is that he believed in the power and divine meaning behind the word. I smiled, unsure of what to say.
His eyes quickly scanned my car. “Usted tiene una vida muy buena.” You have a very good life. It wasn’t said spitefully, sarcastically, or with jealousy. It was an observation. It was also a truth. I do, I really do have a good life.
I wished him well and lazily drove the two whole fucking minutes back to work. If you know me at all, you know I cried all the way there. And I am not even sure why.
I’m also not sure why I felt compelled to write about this moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since yesterday. I don’t want to exploit this man’s experiences and current circumstance (which I don’t know) to make it about me and what I learned about myself or the world or gratitude for the things and luxuries we have, blah blah.
I just know that a pretty standard transaction, which I’ve done many times before, has left me feeling like it was anything but.