The man stood in stark contrast against the brick wall behind him, his pale countenance bold against the red of the brick that framed his unsmiling face. Yet, bold as he was, the people passing by glanced over him, as though he were nothing more than a shadow, reminding them to get back to the safety and warmth of their own homes. But as they barely saw him, he looked through them, instead staring resolutely at an old man who sat on a park bench, feeding pigeons.
The old man was alone, but smiling. He laughed sometimes at the antics of the pigeons. And bit by bit, he broke off pieces from the single slice of bread he was holding and threw them to the ground.
Memories came rushing back to strange young man pressed up against the brick wall. Memories of a surprisingly clear spring night, where he had seen the older man before.
The bread was half gone now. It was a slow process; the old man took his time. The pigeons bumped into each other, cooing, waiting for more, causing the old man to laugh.
The memories continued. Glass breaking but no alarm. A jar of pennies stuffed hastily into a backpack. A cloying ski mask and hot, hot breath.
There was but a morsel left. The old man toyed with the pigeons, light heartedly teasing them.
“Is this what you want?”
The pigeons cooed a yes.
Memories of that same old man turning on the light. Telling him he had been saving those pennies. Memories of running away and of hot, hot sweat.
The old man threw the last morsel on the ground, gathered his coat, and stood up. He smiled down at the pigeons, looking so much like a kindly old grandfather that the young man’s heart ached.
A group of people exited a nearby bus. The tide of the crowd washed over the unseen young man, washing a little bit of him away. He lost sight of the old man and, by the time the people had moved on, the old man had crossed the street and was walking right towards the young man.
And the old man’s eyes did not slide over the young man’s face, as so many people’s had. Instead he stopped and said, “My, isn’t it cold out?”
The young man nodded in agreement.
“Here. Why don’t you buy yourself some coffee?” He handed the young man a five dollar bill.
And then the old man was gone.
But the young man did not move and he stood against the wall still longer. His face was impassive, not a thought was betrayed by its motionless surface. The five dollar bill was clutched in his hand as he stared into the distance.
Then, he crossed the street and entered a bakery. He left with change in his pocket and a piece of bread in his hands. He walked over to where the old man had been sitting and, bit by bit, he broke off pieces of the bread and threw them on the ground. The pigeons cooed in gratitude.
And the young man smiled and laughed.