I’d just finished a Zumba class at the 24 Hour Fitness on Van Ness, and I navigated the sunny streets with long strides, eager to get out of my sweaty clothes and take a shower. He was sitting on a corner, under an umbrella attached to his wheelchair. Masking tape held up the hand written signs on his table, proclaiming the good news about Jesus. As I crossed the street, he waved me over.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.”
“Come sit down, I want to talk to you,” he gestured me over.
I perched beside him, on a low plastic stool in the shade.
“How old are you?”
“I was twenty-three when I came to this country. Now I’m seventy-seven. It was 1962 when I left Cuba. How many years ago was that?”
He waited for my response, and I tapped the numbers out on my fingers, because doing math in your head is hard. “52?”
He’s pleased with my answer.
“Now tell me, what are your goals– what are your life goals? Do you know what you want to do?”
I gave him the same spiel I’ve been giving to family and friends for the past few months: just graduated from college, currently focusing on traveling and writing, and starting massage school in the fall.
He asked me again, “What are your life goals? What do you want to do with your life?”
This time I didn’t hesitate, and gave him the purpose for my life, the one I carry deep down inside me, the one that guides my dreams:
“To make the world a more beautiful place, through love.”
At this, he smiled deeply. “There you go! Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Your hair smells good.” He reached a hand out, and when I nodded, he touched my ponytail. “It’s beautiful.”
“Can I touch your hair?” I reach up and pat the poof of white hair on the crown of his head. It felt like cotton and clouds, all softness and air.
He grabbed a stack of index cards from his table and handed me one. In shaky all caps was written the information for a local church: address, directions, schedule, even radio station. He then wrote his phone number and his apartment number down for me, and had me read the numbers back to him, so that he knew it was legible. “I am your big brother now. I’ll look out for you. You call me if you need anything. And come to the church.”
He took my hands between his, rough and warm, and he prayed over me, first in English, and then in Spanish. As I left, he asked me again for change, and I showed him my hands, empty save for my phone and my hostel key card.
“I came from the gym, remember? I don’t even have a purse.”