Bug bites, chapped lips and my ashy legs were all I could see at night. I could have probably played checkers on my legs with how cracked they were. I remember laying back down to relax and stare at the moon. I could feel its company as it lit up the sky in all its full glory while I settled for the night. I never knew the moon was quite so exquisite, with its various grey swatches and its fathomless craters. Sometimes I swear it bled for me every once in a while, a promise for me of better days to come.
No, I knew I would never get used to living like that. My mind kept going back to my old life before Laandgraab Industries stole it from me. I was their scapegoat, their patsy. One hideously gullible guy that allowed the corporate goons to pull one massive scheme over on me. Creator, I was such an idiot.
The former years were filled with comfort and security. I had a handsome salary that would pay all of my bills and a little extra for all the hobbies I so enjoyed. Some of those hobbies included traveling, fine dining, the theater, golfing, fishing, cycling, and camping. The only traveling I got to do after the scandal was the occasional lift in someone’s work truck from one end of town to the other.
See, I had to rotate my location so as not to get all the citizens up in arms about the homeless population and what not. Instead of lending a hand, they looked the other way and judged me. If they only knew I possessed a double Masters in Business and Communications. Not that it did me any good since the Landgraabs made it so no one would want me to work for them after the travesty.
It was the simple things that unnerved me the most. I couldn’t even afford to fish like a normal person anymore what with the fishing license fees and needing a permanent address to file it under. I remember my second day as a destitute. I wandered through a park and settled by a creek to contemplate my state of affairs. When I heard the most familiar and pleasant sound I’d heard since my trauma. A slick spin and pop of a reels handle as it unleashed the glistening line from its spool, a “tick tick tick tick”, followed by a “woooosh” and finally a “kerploop” as the bait and hook hit the water…Then I too was mesmerized by the floating bobber.
I could have sworn I was back at the theater listening to a renowned orchestra play my favorite concerto, between the soothing sound of the breeze, the ballad of the birds, rustling of the trees, and the occasional yet eloquent dance of the float. The guy fishing was unfazed by my staring. He simply became one with nature and looked free from his weekday burdens.
‘Free’ is a funny concept when you are a drifter. You aren’t bound to the same rules as when you are part of the working society, there are no bills to pay, no one to answer to, no one to rush home to…all very true. However, one isn’t necessarily unimpeded. There is no freedom in not owning anything tangible. There is no freedom in loneliness. There is no freedom when you are being burnt alive by the scorching sun. There is no freedom from the common cold when you have no medicine to tend to it. There is no freedom from the rain as it soaks you to the bone without shelter or a change of clothes. There is no freedom from the stench that claims you. There is no freedom when you’re being eaten alive by bugs at night.There is no freedom when your stomach squabbles with you due to hunger.
That reminds me of my first meal I received when I was sent to the streets…it was the same park I watched the guy fishing in. An earthly angel, named Annie, decided to grill some hot dogs and feed the community in the park that day.
I didn’t think I could partake, but I was called over and handed a plate. That was probably the best day of my life in a while. My first bite of that wiener was as if I just cut into a tenderloin, so mouthwatering, so satisfying. At least there was one night I didn’t feel my insides were indignant with me because of its neglect. That very day Annie educated me about the ‘Hot Meal’ program that fed the vagabonds in the area. Yet, low funding made it so they were only able to serve food twice a month. Better than nothing.
I found myself never missing one of ‘those’ days though. Hot meals were monumental when you lived on the streets. Sadly, half of us faint before the meals were even served on our trays. Others were too weak to carry the trays. All of us smelled like garbage day. The best parts of those meals were that they brought in special guests to perform for us or talk to us. Sometimes they even brought medical help to ‘band aide’ some of our problems. My favorite was the local performers that came by to play or sing for us. It lightened my spirit and made me forget my predicament if only for that occasion…
Annie also worked the soup kitchen. She never treated us like anything less than people. Always found time to sit with us and chat. Our ‘aroma’ never bothered her. She was one of those special people that were not just punching the ‘volunteer’ card. She was sincere about the cause. Sometimes Annie would meet me in the park and bring me a sandwich then challenge me to a game of chess. She was serious about the game, it was adorable to see her furrow her brows, squint her eye and become strategic.
I let her win every time, and I’d make a big deal about her winning too, it’s like my gift to her for all that she did for me and the community. If I had a grand-daughter like Annie I would be so proud. She asked me one day what I missed the most about my past, when I worked, before the Landgraabs betrayal. I chuckle at what I told her, but it was the truth. I said, “Annie, I miss being invisible when I walk into a public place. I miss going to the library and just picking out books and having a library card with an address linked to it that allowed me to borrow said books. Simple things like that.”
Would you believe two weeks later Annie showed up at the soup kitchen with some new clothes for me along with a temporary library and gym card! She instructed me that I was to go shower and change clothes at the gym then have fun at the library. I hate to admit, I broke down in tears. It was a blessing that I gratefully took advantage of.
When I walked up the stairs of the regal looking library I felt invigorated, the concrete steps welcomed me, beckoned me to continue my journey. The cold bronze handle of the ancient looking door sent a shock to my fingertips acknowledging my presence. When I entered the establishment, I thought all eyes would be on me, but I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The smell of books wrapped their arms around me, and gingerly pulled me forward. I was normal again. I wore the cheesiest grin. No one looked up at me, no one noticed my presence, not by smell nor by wardrobe, it was just another seeker of books, that’s all, and it pleased me so.
I planned to stay at the library and read as long as their doors were open. I wanted to go to the periodical section to see what ever happened after the debacle. As I headed towards my destination I ran into the Laandgraab’s wife and son. Their blonde crowns and stealthy frames were unmistakable. They never noticed me as their backs were turned to me.
I felt a strong desire to make my presence known to them. Tell them what their family did to me, what I was living through because of them. Alas, I did not. What good would it have done? Would they even have cared?
After I calmed myself, I took residence in a station within the periodical section and strained my old eyes as I read all the current happenings. While I perused the archives I found out that the company I worked for was under investigation. I found out that even though they had a ‘fall guy’ the audit turned up even more compelling information against the Board and the President of Laandgraab industries. Turns out the Corporate and Criminal Fraud (CACF) division agents were looking for me, to interview me as a witness against the financial schemes and charges brought against the company! Eureka! It was what I needed to clear my name and start anew. I didn’t stay as long as I wanted to given the fresh news I acquired. I ran to the soup kitchen to tell Annie and celebrate.
When I arrived Annie was still serving and had a doggie bag set aside for me. I told her what I found out and she said as soon as she cleaned up she would take me to the divisional offices. We were so overjoyed we took a picture to commemorate the occasion. The first day of my new life!
The interview with the CACF was exhausting and labor intensive. I helped them locate files that they were unaware of and filled in some gaps during my tenure there. In turn, they filled me in on how the company were able to pin everything on me. I volunteered to be a witness in the court case against the firm and they promised to keep me safe in the meantime.
Today, I am living life anew. I am now an agent of the CACF taking down corrupt businesses like the Landgraabs. I donate to the soup kitchen monthly and now they are able to feed the homeless every day of the week. Many weekends I end up cooking and serving with the volunteer staff. We were even able to hire Annie as a full time employee for the charitable organization. More people in the community were stirred by my story and not only help fund the cause but volunteer to help run things smoothly.
I have always believed things happen for a reason. Had I not lived through that ordeal, I would not have been able to see the need in the community, would have never known of this opportunity to help. Everyone has their own story, some are more tragic than others but I do feel we all need an ‘earthly angel’ every now and again. A genuine human connection that’s links one to a higher cause.