Even now, five years later, the fate of a stranger I saw only once weighs on my mind. He was a big and lean man sitting on a crate on the street median wearing a bandana tied around his neck, a white cotton sleeveless shirt stretched tight over his chest, jeans and lace up boots. His dark, smooth skin was shining in the hot Houston sun, and the muscles in his arms were flexed at ready in testament to the words carefully and boldly printed into the sign at his feet:
When the light changed and we neared him, it felt it would be a dishonor to offer him money, but we slowed and silently nodded, passing him a five and he silently nodded and took it.
This was at the time when New Orleans was still reeling from the affects of Katrina. I noticed an increase in the number of black families inside the Loop, especially along the bus stops on Westheimer. I saw a mother and her child standing at a fancy bus stop in Upper Kirby near one of those pointless British style red telephone booths, with a couple of big trash bags sitting close by on the ground where they waited and I knew that what they carried in those bags was all they had. Everything else was underwater, and their lives were now lived day to day.
It could have been her brother or husband that chose that spot to find work near downtown in hopes that he would be able to provide his family terra firma, a place they could look forward to returning to at the end of the day without having to drag their world around in a plastic bag.
I would like to believe that someone saw the intensity of his gaze, the sureness of his stance, and took him on for a job. He would have put one hand on the side of their truck bed and swung his whole body clear over, landing without a sound, but his weight would have lifted the driver up a bit in his seat, who would be surprised and approving.