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The mute old drunk had gotten lucky the day before - a stranger had taken pity on him at the bridge, (under which he and many other homeless people lived), and stopped to give him a brand-new fifty-dollar bill. He hadn't seen his granddaughter in many years, and had sworn often that if he ever had
fifty dollars at once, he would spend it on her. Straight to the thrift store he went, (before he had time to change his mind), and with the help of a kindly cashier, bought a pair of girl's Nike's, being assured it would please a teen. On his walk back to the overpass, his thoughts struggled to find a way to
get the gift to her, as his daughter, (her mother), and he were estranged, and she wouldn't let him near their house, let alone bring a gift. Maybe this whole idea was a bad decision, and yet in his heart was conviction that he was doing the right thing. Coming from the market, he had to enter under
the bridge from the opposite end of where he slept, walking through an area he rarely got to. Losing his balance on a small stone, he stumbled and dropped his package, and upon picking it up looked to his right. The girl was no more than a teenager, yet there she sat amidst the box city, dirty
face and clothes, and barefoot, a weary, exhausted look in her eyes - already tired of life, yet barely a woman. The old man, homeless and hungry himself, saw her glance in his direction, but he couldn't look away - couldn't stop wondering how such a beautiful young girl could have reached this
sorry fate at such a tender age. He hoped he wasn't leering, but he was spellbound by her, the whites of her eyes striking contrast to her brown iris,
and though she wasn't smiling, her lips were parted enough so he could tell her teeth were perfect and sparkling. She had streaming, waist-long black
hair, as straight as pulled silk, (and seemingly as fine), though it was unkempt and a bit oily, and blemishes on her face ... acne? She was young, but seemed a bit beyond the age of pimples. She glanced up again and he smiled, but she looked away quickly, and he was sure this time that he was
making her feel uncomfortable. Still, he couldn't help but stare ... what on this earth could have brought this angel here, to this ragged refuge under the bridge? And then he saw her arms ... and legs, riddled with needle marks and tiny bruises, and he knew. The blemishes made sense now as
well, for he had seen those lesions many times, but usually in older addicts ... irregular sores on the face, that seemed to never heal. Oh yes, he knew very well what the opiate demon looked like, had felt its bite and euphoric power, and had only escaped it himself because of the booze. When he
ended up on the street, he was forced to make a choice, and alcohol was the only thing he could not let go of ... the one thing he could always find or steal or finagle out of someone, so that was the devil he slept with now. But he knew the others well, and had seen far more than enough of all it
could do to lives, young and old. So many friends he'd lost to that beast - so many, and here another, a lovely, young life battered on the reef of addiction, selling her soul, (and body), for the sake of not being sick. She glanced his way again, and still he stared - he couldn't help it, for she was
about the same age his granddaughter was, (though he hadn't seen her since the day of her birth), and looked much the same she would look like. This time she'd had enough, and feeling his stare to be a bit more than curiosity, got up to leave. He moved quickly, however, and crossed the
distance to her, smiling on the way. Much to his surprise, she smiled back ... she asked him quietly if he wanted something, and his heart sank, for he knew what she meant. He let her know at once, (with a hand gesture), that he was not interested in THAT, and her smile disappeared quickly, fading to
the lost, hungry stare of earlier. Almost immediately she glanced back at him with suspicion, for why would this old, mute drunk be bothering her, if not for sexual favors ... what else did he have in mind? She told him she had no money and that she needed to go, so he gently held onto her
elbow. She quickly shook it loose and took two steps back, asking louder what he wanted. But he couldn't answer, and just pleaded with his eyes for her to not be afraid, but the more he tried, the more frightened she looked. Finally, he put his index finger to his mouth, (to quiet her), kissed it, and
touched it gently to her cheek ... he then slowly unwrapped the package under his arm, and placed the brand-new sneakers at her feet, (seeing at once that she would fit them perfectly). When he glanced at her again, she was crying. She began to say something to thank him, but he quickly
hushed her again, pointed at his heart, smiled gently, and walked away, beaming from his soul. He didn't need any booze for the rest of that day ... or the next, and he knew in his heart that the shoes were the right gift, after all ... and that they had found the right pair of feet.
The following year, after rehab and fourteen months of sobriety, he told his granddaughter the story, and she cried, too ... smiling.
* FIRST PLACE in the "Random Acts of Kindness" Poetry Contest, Kai Michael Neumann, Sponsor. *
Copyright © Gregory R Barden | Year Posted 2018