Brief Encounter

It was a chilly morning in Manhattan late in March. I was on my way to a doctor’s office when I was stopped by a middle-aged black man leaning on a stick he was using as a cane. Although he was dressed in suit and tie, his clothes were dirty and wrinkled. There was a discrepancy between his appearance and the precise, elegant manner of his speech.
“Please tell me where the nearest hospital is, aside from this one,” he asked me, pointing to the hospital that was just across the street. I told him that the nearest hospital was Bellevue, a good mile and a half away by bus and subway. Since he was obviously in pain, I suggested that he try this hospital instead.
“They wouldn’t take care of me. They claim that Bellevue is closer to where I live. But it is not close to here, and I cannot walk that far.” He told me that two weeks before he had been hit by a bus. “Yesterday, somebody stole my crutches, and now I am very much in pain.”
I questioned him about his occupation and where he came from. “I am an accountant form Nigeria. But I have had bad luck in this country and want to go back to Nigeria. I would like to save some money to do it, but I spent the money I had because of the accident.”
I thought that he could use a few dollars to pay for the taxi to Bellevue, so I gave him $10 and said good-bye.
“Wait!” he said, “Give me your name and address. I want to pay you back!” “No,” I said, “that’s fine, don’t worry about it.” “But,” he said, evidently surprised, “you are giving me money, just like that?” “Well,” I answered, “I am also a foreigner, and I know how it is to go through a difficult time away from one’s own country.”
As I was leaving not to be late for my appointment, he turned around and looked at me sadly. “My name is William,” he said, “in case we meet again.”
Cesar Chelala is a writer on human rights issues.

One comment on “Brief Encounter
  1. Kate Daniels says:

    What a sweet vignette to remind me what I have to be grateful for and a gentle nudge to remember to give back what has been so graciously been given to me. Thank you, Cesar.

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