A few years ago, I decided to leave the profession of waitressing and become a legal secretary, so I started going to evening business school. Since my school and work were both downtown and the parking rates were too high for my income, I took the bus to and from work.
One evening as I sat at the bus stop, I noticed a tall, thin black man. He had a cardboard box and a restless way about himself. He seemed to try to make himself comfortable on the bench, but fidgeted a lot and would open and close this box over his head. Everyone who was there got off the bench and stood at the curb to avoid being near this man. And it seemed that as people snickered to each other and would look back at him, his behavior became more exaggerated. He put the box over his head and started singing some strange song at the top of his lungs. Then he would peek out from his box and look around, fuss a little more, and go back into his box and sing some more. He reminded me so much of a little boy looking to see who might be watching him. The man worked his way over to my bench, where I waited for the bus to go home.
When he stopped fidgeting and playing with the box over his head, noticing that I was neither snickering nor moving, he sat still. Then he looked at me, and I looked at him, smiled, and said, "Hello." He said, "Hello" back. And for the remainder of my wait for the bus, we sat silently, occasionally looking at one another and lightly smiling. The silence was our conversation. I said good-bye as I boarded my bus, and he also said good-bye.
The following night after work and school, the odd man arrived again and sat at the opposite end of my bench. I said hello, and he said hello. Again, we sat there with the silence as our conversation and the occasional glances and light smiles. Again, my bus came, and I said good-bye as I boarded my bus, and he nodded.
That evening, I thought even more about him and what I might be able to do for him. I began to think of him throughout the day intermittently. He took me away from my own personal concerns, and I think that was a good thing.
He was there at my bus bench every evening thereafter. I began to study him, and it occurred to me that he was quite a beautiful person. He had the smoothest skin, like brown satin, and his fingers were long and tapered, with very clean fingernails. He wore a ski hat that looked ragged, but his face was smooth and unlined. He had a beautiful, long Roman nose that was slender and aquiline. His eyes were deep and dark, and the whites were also very white and clear. He was wearing ragged clothes, but not one single part of him looked worn or dirty. He was absolutely flawless.
As the days went by, I felt that this man without a name was somewhat of a friend to me, and I wanted to do something for him. So, one night I offered him some money. He looked stone-cold it me, and seemed irritated. I offered to buy him food at a nearby restaurant, and he looked even more irritated. He said no firmly, shook his head, and then gave me the cold shoulder. What did I do wrong? Did I offend this man by offering charity? I deduced that he just wanted to be treated like an ordinary person.
Sadly, my silent friend never appeared again, and I felt so bad. Soon, though, I got so busy with work and school that I forgot about him. One evening I got out of school extremely late at night and sat at the bus stop, feeling vulnerable. Instead of the people I'd normally ride the bus with, the bus stop area was crowded with people who seemed up-to-no-good. I could not see any police officers, and there weren't many buses or cars driving by.
Shortly after I pulled out my pen and began praying, out of nowhere, my silent friend appeared and sat on the bench opposite me! He said hello, and with considerable relief, I said hello in return. I was so happy to see this friend who had disappeared for a while that I completely forgot about any sense of danger. My bus came, I said good-bye, he nodded, and we both watched each other from the bus window as it departed.
From that moment on, he was always there at my bench, and I never offered him anything else but hello and good-bye and some light smiles that seemed to say everything that really matters in this world.
I started working in a new area of town, and transferred to a school campus in the same vicinity. That meant no longer taking the bus, and it also meant that I could drive my car to work and school.
My last night downtown, my friend arrived, and we said our usual hello's, accompanied by the silence. This time he looked at me and he said, "You look like you have a world on your mind. Would you like to talk?" I was taken aback by this change in flow, and I thought, Okay, I'll talk with him.
As I spoke with this man, his face filled with a sense of peace and contentment, and it was as though my words were lulling him to sleep, like a small child listening to his mother tell him a bedtime story. My bus came, and I said good-bye, and I knew that this was the last time we would sit together. We silently watched each other through the bus window as it moved on.
Soon after, I told a good friend about this man; we both thought I could bring him an old but very warm blanket--a way of giving him something. Well, I packed that blanket and went up and down that street looking for him. I knew where he could usually be found, but I couldn't find him anywhere. I tried all different hours and days, and no, he could never be found so that I could give him the blanket.
I wrote about this man a couple of years later in an English class because of how deeply he touched me. We were engaged in a group writing assignment where we each presented our different points of view on homeless people. It was in this class that a couple of women from my group approached me and said, "Don't you think that man was your angel? We think so; our skin has goose bumps from hearing that story."
I had read some books on angels, but I'd never put two and two together. But now, thinking back to how beautiful his features were, his long Roman nose, his satiny look beneath the rags, the way he appeared when I felt in danger, and the way he sat with me--yes, I believe he was an angel, sent to give me comfort and protection in a time of loneliness.