‘I ain’t half the man I used to be. There’s a heavy shadow hanging over me.” (Yesterday)
It was payday two days ago, or as I proclaimed to all and sundry, “the second happiest day of my life.” I wished everyone a “Happy Payday” all day, as if it were some public holiday. I had felt the days leading up to payday were grim, since I had my eyes on quite a few things that my wallet couldn’t support. However, I did treat myself to Skittles, that are now being sold at American Pharmacy in Marunouchi, and rationed them out like there was a candy war. Rationing is certainly not my thing, since the bag lasted only a few hours.
The chill of autumn’s circling the city, carrying the message that summer’s over, and the decorated streets of Ginza and brisk nights of winter are on the way. It’s clear and lush in its gorgeousness outside, so I decided to get on my beloved bicycle and ride through the streets of Ningyocho, around Suitengu, and up to Nihonbashi. As it’s a Sunday, there’s no one around, the streets are devoid of life; a cyclist’s dream. I wind up in a park where multi-colored water jets are surging green, blue and pink streams. Aquatic rainbows dance in fountain’s lights.
A homeless man is rifling through a garbage can for food. His search seems futile, as he has already looked through two garbage cans with no success. Maybe, I’ve been blind or oblivious, but I’ve never seen a homeless person looking through the garbage in this park before. As a matter of fact, in this neighborhood, the homeless are rare, and they are usually sleeping on the side of the bridge, at the park in Kyobashi, or on the benches near the Sumida River. The homeless I’ve encountered never beg, but carry their belongings on their back from place to place or wheel their shopping carts that overflow with huge plastic bags filled with plastic bottles. They’re easy to ignore, because either they’ve learned to make themselves “invisible” or I’ve learned to overlook things that make me uncomfortable. This man sifting through the garbage about six feet away, I can’t, and choose not to, ignore. As a matter of fact, I choose not to forget him or this night (hence this note).
On payday, one of my co-workers told me that he was down to his last $2. I nodded sympathetically, because I had been there before. Thankfully, times haven’t been rough lately, but there were days that were just so “broke.” My co-worker knew what it was like to be hungry (as many of us have at one time or other), but the difference was that not only could he see salvation coming in the upcoming payday, but he could have, if need be, asked any of us for a few dollars to tide him over. Most of us know that when we’re on our last dime, food, more than anything else, is the saving grace. I wish I had some money in my pocket to buy the homeless man something to eat. Would he wait, while I run to the ATM, and then the convenience store across the street? How do I convey the sentiment? At this moment, there’s nothing in the world this man wants more than two slices of bread or money to buy some food, and I have neither right now.
It’s easy to turn away, isn’t it? Yet, when hunger’s ripped you in half; turned you inside out and left you wasted, and desiring sleep to escape the pangs; when you’ve counted coins in your palm and tried to figure out the cheapest way to get full; when everywhere you look, you see others eating, drinking, and oblivious to a harsher reality, then you know you must face the issue at hand. That man’s hunger we share, or could because we’ve all been ravenous.
What to do? Take the weight of the world on our shoulders and burden ourselves, yet remain inactive? Impossible.
Feel hunger, consciously not eat for a day, in order to feel compassion? Possible.
Feed one hungry person who can’t afford to feed themselves once a week? Possible.
Fill someone’s stomach, or attempt to fill a small bit, before indulging in another mindless treat? Possible.
Feel for someone else, instead of looking away? Possible.
Dear friends, as you know, I’m leaving in five weeks; heading to a place where they’ll feed me three square meals a day, and supply me with unlimited tea. There are no snacks offered, and I actually thought of sneaking in my own, but now I won’t. I’ll be grateful for what’s given, and remind myself, that many others are suffering.
p.s New and old readers of these letters, thanks so much for reading. It’s such a pleasure to see your names pop up one by one in my inbox. I’m grateful that you take the time.