In an instant, my year-long impression of both of them vanished.
She threw her cigarette onto the sidewalk and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. I watched her stomp back into the kosher deli with her usual wide-eyed expression that always made me feel like something was slightly off. I wondered if she washed her hands before she started making sandwiches again.
His filthy, tattered clothes hung for dear life on his frail frame. His face was covered with a grey beard and dirt. So much dirt. He was homeless and spent most of his day under a tree in the park next to my morning coffee stop. It was more of a street island than a park, but people used it to walk their dogs, wait for the bus, or let their kids play in the sand. They all stayed far away from him. Most of the time when I walked by I turned my head to avoid seeing his dirt-caked butt crack. I passed him almost every day for the last year and I couldn’t tell you what his face looked like. I never once thought about asking him if he was hungry.
“Excuse me sir, are you hungry?”
That morning the sound of her voice startled me. It was soft and kind. She didn’t sound crazy. When she called him “sir” she meant it. It made me look at him. Really look at him. That morning he was no longer faceless. He was probably hungry, but he said, “No” and continued to limp by, dragging one foot slowly behind the other. That morning I was reminded how a simple act of kindness can change everything, even a year-long impression that couldn’t have been more wrong.
It took me almost two weeks to get up the courage to go back and ask her if I could take her picture. One afternoon I parked my car outside the deli, rolled down my windows, and waited. It wasn’t long before I smelled smoke and when I looked up from my phone, sure enough, there she was.
She told me Norman is schizophrenic and has been on the streets for about 10 or 11 years. She tries to help him out whenever she can. She said I could come back and find her anytime if I didn’t like the picture. I love the picture.
This is Gina.