Sept. 27, 2019, 10:41 a.m.
On the train today, a man asked the passengers, “Do you have any food or change that you can spare,” which made me look up. The ask was normally for change. To date, I had never heard any mention of food.
“Do you have any food or change that you can spare,” he said again. I was struck by the simplicity of the request. He was hungry. The people in the car looked at their phones. I stared at my empty hands.
“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” He shuffled through the train car, plastic bags hanging from his wrists. I will never forget his face, which was red with shame, eyes downcast.
“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” I bit my lip because I didn’t have anything: no food, no cash. I had started leaving my wallet, which was bulky and heavy, at home. In the moment, it seemed like a pitiful excuse.
“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” Normally there was a story. Something to do with illness or children. But this man was too tired even to elaborate.
“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” He arrived the other side of the train car and looked out at the people. The people did not look back at him. His hair was bizarrely patchy, made completely bald in some places from circumstances I could not imagine.
“Do you have any food—” He said it slowly this time. He was testing the waters, watching for a reaction, checking to see whether or not he existed—“or change that you can spare.”
He waited a beat, then stepped out of the train car. Not a single person looked up, making me the sole witness to the death of humanity.
I stepped off the train and walked quickly to my apartment. Once there, I sat on the edge of my bed and wept—actually wept—into a tissue. I can’t explain why. You would have had to have been there. You would have had to see his face.
In Reporting class at the journalism school, we’ve been practicing mock interviews. The interviewer asks difficult questions like, “What was the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?” As a rule, I hate these questions, because I can never pinpoint anything specific. Life is so expansive. If I am ever asked that question, at least I now have an answer.