Harbour Boats, Monterey, California

Why it’s Good to Talk to Strangers – 2

His beard was white but his moustache was stained an over saturated orangey/ red colour from heavy tobacco use. He was drinking from a can, concealed within a brown paper bag. It was probably about 10.30am.

I’d been on the road for almost two months and had only had a couple of hours sleep the night before. My clothes were a tad dishevelled and upon reflection, I think he thought that I may have been, like him, homeless.

He struck up a conversation with me and offered to buy me lunch. I explained that I had a rental car and food and I was just passing through Monterey, heading down the California coast (it was December 2009).

He chatted a little about his family. He was estranged from his sons. He slept rough in Monterey. He drank. His drinking had caused problems. We chatted for a while and then we wished each other a good day and parted ways.

I looked at the seals in the ocean. I walked on the pier. I checked out some art galleries. I wandered into a museum on the history of Monterey and California and enjoyed being a tourist, passing through. As I came out, a man was walking my way. As he reached a recognisable distance, I realised it was the man from earlier, carrying a bunch of flowers which he’d clearly hand picked from private gardens.

We said hello again. This time he was pretty cut up. He had just found out that a friend of his, who also slept rough, had died in the night and had been found in the bushes not far from where we stood.

I now realised what the flowers were for. We wandered over to a concrete bench near the waterfront.

‘This was his spot, where he used to panhandle for money,’ the man explained.

He asked me if I would join him in saying a few words.

We both stood looking at the empty, concrete bench. I was suddenly an honoured guest at a memorial service. I felt woefully inadequate. I didn’t know the dead man. My mind started asking questions. Did his family even know he was dead yet? Would he be mourned?  Why did he die? Who was he? What could I say that would meaningfully acknowledge his life? I did know that I could stand with this man as he honoured his friend.

The man said some words and prayed for his friend’s family. I prayed for his friend’s family. We prayed for peace. He laid the flowers out on the bench. We thanked God. And then, for the second time that day we said goodbye.

Harbour Boats, Monterey, California

Rosaleen Donnan

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