We were running into a craft shop to search for fabric that I need for a project, myself, my husband and my son. As we were walking in there was a man coming in our direction on the sidewalk. He was dirty, matted brown hair a large orange backpack clutched against his chest. There was a certain sense of mania about him, something in the eyes, that clue that “normal” people sometimes spot when they see someone with mental health issues. I smiled slightly to him as he passed me and I heard him say “Hidey ho big un”… my smile grew. His voice was childlike and happy, there was a certain innocence in it. I glanced back and my husband was also smiling and once inside the store repeated to me what the man had said, it was in fact in response to my husband smiling and nodding hello to him. Put out of our minds we went through the store and, of course, they didn’t have what I wanted. Annoyed that we had to get back in the car and drive literally across the street I felt my scowl as we exited the store.
It was only then that I realized that there was a bench directly in front of our car, and who should be sitting on it. He was weeping loudly and clutching a peach in his hand. I noticed him more closely than before, he wore camouflage pants and a black t-shirt. He was probably in his early to mid 40’s. This time when I saw him he was literally rocking back and forth in his grief and tears rolled down his cheeks, smudging the dirt. My husband and son continued to the car but I felt myself stop, trying to determine the safest and most appropriate way to interrupt his emotional outcry. He made eye contact with me, and this was our conversation. “My Grandma’s peaches, oh her peaches. When I was a boy I would pick her peaches and take a bite and throw them down and waste them… oh she was so angry.” his words broken by sobs and rocking, “I’m so sorry Grandma, I’m so, so sorry.”
Looking at me again, “You see, I am so hungry and I saw this peach in that trashcan,” he pointed a shaking finger to a trash bin just behind me a bit, “I pulled the peach out and I just saw my Grandma’s face looking at me, do you think she’s still mad at me for ruining her peaches? She died mad at me for peaches..” he broke into sobs as he spoke. I wanted to go to him, to pat him on the back and comfort him. That is how my brain operates, his pain and sadness were so genuine that my heart began to ache for him. I said the only thing that came to my mind, “Your Grandma loved you so much, I bet she’s the one who put that peach there for you to find.” His face changed, he smiled slightly and said “Really?” I nodded and said “Heck yes, after all this time she’s still looking out for you, she loves you and she doesn’t want you to be hungry.” He smiled broadly, and used his fist to wipe away his tears. His eyes fixed on the peach with a kind of peaceful recollection. “Thank you folks, thank you so much. You guys have a wonderful evening.” We said a brief goodbye and got in the car. Sitting silent I know we were all trying to decide how to help him, there were no fast foods or shops near to us. As we began to drive away I remembered that there was a small convenience store around the corner. We looked back and he was already on his way, his orange backpack clutched against his chest.