Ignoring the crackling in his knees, Charlie bent down and lifted a tarpaulin.
Below, a grizzled old man reached a knobby hand out from beneath a tattered tan jacket and accepted an apple offered by Charlie. He pondered the world with rheumy tired eyes as the younger man studied him, searching for signs of immediate trauma or sickness.
“How are you doing, Alfred?” Charlie asked genuinely. “Are you having any luck keeping this cold rain off your shoulders today?”
Charlie grasped the old feller’s jacket and pulled it tighter around his neck. He took the time to fasten the top button, and then he yanked a warm blue sleeping bag up over the man’s chest.
“Do you want some hot coffee? Or tea? Seems to me you’re a tea drinker, aren’t you, Alfred? Last time I was here I recall it was that old Earl Grey you liked.”
Grinning toothlessly in gratitude, Alfred hung onto the sleeve of Charlie’s navy blue rainproof Mountain Equipment Co-op jacket with trembling gnarled fingers. He didn’t want to let go. He liked the young man’s friendly eyes, although he spotted some deep lingering sadness there. They shared common ground.
“Alfred, ya gotta let me go for a sec so I can get you some tea. I’ll be right back, I swear.” Gently, Charlie nudged the old man’s arthritic fingers apart, wondering - as he always did during his shifts as a volunteer - what brought the man to his damp perch underneath a dripping awning on a concrete sidewalk in a sodden Western Canadian coastal city. Had he lost money? A wife? A job? A child, perhaps? His mind? Had he declined slowly into some fantasy world spurred on by schizophrenia or another equally debilitating disease?
Sauntering back to a nearby cube truck to get the tea, Charlie knew he would never know Alfred’s story. The old survivor never spoke, except with eyes alight with gratitude for the simple pleasure of an apple, a sleeping bag, a steaming cup of Earl Grey.
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