The first time I saw him was yesterday morning when I was coming into work. He was sitting on the cement bench against the wall in front of our office building. I wasn’t thinking about anything specific when I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help myself. When I did, I saw that he was wearing a brown hoodie, had darkish skin, sharp eyebrows, penetrating eyes, and was sporting a well-trimmed beard and mustache. That’s strange, I thought. He didn’t look like a homeless person; he was too well groomed. But I knew he had to be homeless because of the tent-shaped cardboard sign he had standing on the sidewalk in front of him that said he was homeless. He also had the top of a cardboard box sitting upside down on the sidewalk, waiting for anyone passing by to toss in a bill or two.
Turning my eyes forward once again, I thought Mr. Jenkins isn’t going to like this guy hanging around. But instead of saying anything to him, I climbed the cement steps that led to the front of our building and entered the lobby where I approached Phil, our security guard, and informed him about the homeless guy.
“Thanks, I’ll look into it,” he replied.
Satisfied that it would be taken care of, I left him and headed straight for the elevators, and took one up to the fifth floor where my office was. When it came time for my first coffee break, I went down to the lobby and asked Phil if he had any trouble getting rid of the homeless guy? “What homeless guy?” he asked.
Surprised, I replied, “The guy in the hoodie sitting on the bench out front by the wall.”
Phil shrugged and replied, “He must have left before I got there.”
“Okay,” I said, then went back upstairs and tried to forget about the homeless guy for the rest of the day. But this morning when I arrived, he was sitting on the bench once again.
I didn’t want to stop, but something made me anyway. Standing there looking at him, I felt compelled to express my concern. “You know, you shouldn’t be here,” I said to him, while trying not to get too close, just in case he smelled bad. “Mr. Jenkins, who owns our building, doesn’t like homeless people loitering about.” He just looked at me, but didn’t say anything. “You should leave right now before Phil, our security guard, calls the police.” He still didn’t say anything. That’s when I decided to ignore him as best I could, and go up the staircase in front of our building and head for the lobby. Inside, I informed Phil that the homeless guy was back.
Smiling, Phil replied, “Okay, I’ll go check on it right now.” And with that, I watched him go across our building’s lobby and through the front glass doors. As I continued to watch, he disappeared down the steps that led to the sidewalk below. Less than a minute later, I saw him reappear at the top of the steps, a frown on his face.
“Are you sure about this homeless guy?” he said to me after coming back into the lobby. Now it was my turn to frown.
“Why, wasn’t he there?” Phil shook his head. “Well, then never mind,” I said to Phil, feeling a bit annoyed. “I can’t be bothered with him now. I have work to do.” But the homeless guy wouldn’t leave my consciousness, and that night, he kept popping in and out of my dreams.
The next morning after getting off the bus (Even though I could probably afford it, I thought it was too expensive to own a car in the city.), I ran into Janet, my neighbor, in the next cubicle. She also took a bus to and from work. As we approached our building, I glanced out the corner of my eye and saw the homeless guy, once again, sitting on the bench. A bit of anger rose in me. “I wish that homeless guy would leave the area,” I said to Janet.
“What homeless guy?” she replied.
“Him,” I said, turning and pointing toward the bench except . . . he wasn’t there! Grabbing Janet’s arm, I stopped her from walking any further. “You didn’t see a homeless guy sitting on that bench, did you?”
Her auburn topped brow wrinkled in confusion. “No.”
“Never mind,” I said, shaking my head, “must have been my imagination.” But what wasn’t my imagination was the way my insides were churning with both fear and confusion. What the hell was going on? Was I hallucinating or something? I know I saw a homeless guy. I even dreamt about him, so why hadn’t Janet or Phil seen him?
“I’ll tell you what,” I said to Janet, hoping to make myself feel a little bit better, “let’s go get us a couple of Frappuccino’s before we head inside.”
“Sounds good to me.”
So together, we proceeded to head toward the Starbucks on the corner. All the while, I couldn’t get the homeless guy out of my mind.
The next time I checked the bench, he still wasn’t there. Good, I thought, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Maybe I won’t see him anymore, except I did, the next evening, as Janet and I approached the entrance to the art gallery where a new artist’s work was being shown. Both Janet and I were attorneys for the arts.
Leaning against a tree that stood next to the sidewalk, he was wearing the same clothes as before, and he had his arms folded crossed his chest. This time, his eyes were focused directly on me, almost as if he wanted to ask me something, but I wasn’t interested in talking to him. Instead, with fear and nervousness pushing me, I urged Janet to hurry up. “We need to get inside if we’re going to talk to the artist before everyone else does.” The both of us wanted him to sign with our firm.
“Okay, okay,” said Janet, sounding a tiny bit annoyed. “We don’t have to rush. He’s not going anywhere. We’ll be able to corral him before the night is over.”
Even though I wasn’t so sure, I said, “No, you’re right,” then glanced one more time toward the tree where the stranger had been leaning. He was still there, but it had to be my imagination playing tricks on me, because I could swear he was somehow fading into the shadows. Shaking away the image, I turned around front and accompanied Janet inside.
We immediately sought out the artist who, it turned out, was already talking to a couple of people. As we approached, I saw him indicate the paintings around him with a sweep of his arm. Following his gesture, my eyes fell upon one painting in particular. I stopped short, causing Janet, who had been close behind, to bump into me. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“That’s him!” I exclaimed, pointing in the general direction of where the artist was standing.
“Yeah, that’s Jason Sanborn,” replied Janet.
“No, I mean that’s the homeless guy!”
Stepping around front, Janet looked at me confused. “He’s not homeless,” she said.
“Not Jason,” I replied, slightly exasperated, “his painting!”
“This one,” I said, as I moved toward the canvas that had caught my eye. I couldn’t look away. Sanborn had painted the homeless guy, wearing the exact same clothes and standing in the exact same position as he was out front of the gallery.
Coming to a stop next to Sanborn, and while keeping my eyes focused on the painting, I said out the corner of my mouth, “Mr. Sanborn, excuse me for interrupting, but who is this person in your painting here?” That’s when I finally turned to look at him.
Beaming like a proud father, he replied, “You like?” I found myself nodding slightly. “I call him my guardian angel.”
That one shocked me. I turned to stare at the painting again. “You what?”
“He’s what got me here in the gallery. The owner saw him and contacted me about a showing.” Even though I wasn’t looking at Sanborn, I could tell he was immensely proud just by the sound of his voice.
“But who is the person?” This time I did look at him.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I saw him leaning against a tree one day, and was so intrigued, that I asked him if I could take his picture. Then I used the photo to help me create the painting . . . He’s got such intense eyes.”
Turning back to look at the piercing eyes myself, I nodded, “Yeah, you could say that.”
All this while, Janet had remained quiet, but now she morphed into business mode and began talking to Sanborn about signing with our firm. I let her talk while I kept staring at the face of the bearded stranger. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was as if he was looking deep into my soul. I felt an almost ethereal warmth and peacefulness flow though my insides, while everything else faded away. It took Janet several taps on my shoulder to finally bring me back to awareness.
“He’s going to sign with us!” she said, as I realized Sanborn wasn’t with us anymore. “He’s coming in Monday to look over the contract!” I wanted to be as excited as she was, but all I could do was continue to stare at the paining. That’s when I decided I had to have it.
The cost put a huge dent in my savings, but I didn’t care. Once I acquired the painting, I had my building’s maintenance person hang it on the wall opposite my bed where I could stare at it every night before shutting the lights and closing my eyes. It’s amazing what a piece of art can do for one’s sleep, especially when you feel as if you’re being watched over by your own guardian angel. Eventually, I found out he was my guardian angel.
But that’s a story for another day.