I Have Feet!

Best of the Boards
Lindseye Greye


“I cursed my fate because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet.” –Author Unknown

The bus was crowded and noisy. The unsettling odor of humans in varying degrees of unclean-ness mingled with the offensively fruity antiseptic that emanated from the tiny bathroom compartment for a nauseating effect. I had moved to the back bench during the last rest-stop, somewhere in southern Ohio, languidly stretching my legs before me in an effort to look less awkward than I felt. I hated taking the bus.

Seated to my left was a large black man in a heavy, greasy-smelling coat. His head bounced against the darkened window from time to time with the movements of the bus. I was certain he could not have been sleeping, yet he remained with eyes closed, effectively withdrawing from the rest of the passengers. It seemed an unwritten rule in bus-riding that one never disturbed another who appeared to be sleeping. There were a lot of rules in this subculture, and most of them involved personal space—whether real or imagined. Unlike many other cultures, this populace was constantly shifting, so there were no leaders or followers; we were all drones-disenfranchised wanderers with no pasts or futures, encased in our private existences as we numbly moved from one depot to another, awaiting our discharge back to the ranks of humanity.

On my right sat a man I guessed to be in his forties. He had a full beard from which a few grey hairs protruded around the chin, small eyes with plenty of wrinkles that had multiplied when he had squinted a polite smile before taking his seat. His clothes looked as if they’d been taken from three or four different people: ragged canvas sneakers, dull brown polyester pants, a dingy blue button-down shirt and a poorly-fitting tweed sportcoat. He was unwashed and unkempt, but he was, at least, respectful of my personal space.

We rode quietly for a long time, avoiding eye contact or any other contact. Eventually, though, we struck up a conversation, if for no other reason than to alleviate the perpetual boredom. I was reluctant to speak to him about myself, expecting that he would think I was self-involved or might be condescending to him, considering our obvious differences. I was a singer, touring with Top 40/dance bands. I had been home to Indiana for a few weeks between gigs for a rare visit with my parents and was now en route to Virginia, to meet up with a new band. The information I shared with him was sketchy; for all I knew, this guy could be a stalker between gigs.

His interest was polite but genuine, and I relaxed somewhat after a while. When he told me that he sensed there was something heavy on my heart, I was surprised at his intuitiveness—and also a little peeved at myself for being so transparent. I decided to take advantage of his sympathetic, disinterested ear, and began to spill out my tale of woe.

I had recently left a band in Michigan, and during my time off, the bandleader had contacted me with a new offer. He had told me about this wonderful year-long job aboard a clipper-ship cruise line: lots of perks, lots of money and lots of travel. There were few drawbacks, except that the contract was finite and there would be a month off between each three-month season. It was a tempting offer, but at the same time, I had an offer to go with a new band where I’d be fronting with another “chick singer” named Robyn, who had gotten me the job on her own word. The money was not as good as the cruise ship, but the band was popular and reputable and had a lot of potential. Perhaps best of all, I’d be working with Robyn—my best friend and joined-at-the-hair Siamese twin. Choosing between what seemed like two perfect jobs was the hardest decision I’d ever faced.

My haggard seatmate listened intently and sympathetically as I relayed the dilemma. He gave no advice, except that I should do what felt right—who knew what the future might hold?

After a while, feeling somewhat unburdened as well as a little self-indulged, I turned the conversation away from myself. I asked him the obligatory “So, where are you headed?” He told me he was on his way to New Jersey. Just as I had been at first, he was sketchy when he talked about himself.

“Is that where you’re from?”

“Well, I grew up there, but I’ve been gone a long time. ”

“Oh, where do you live now?”

“Houston.”

“I’ve played Houston. It was great! So are you visiting someone in Jersey?” I pried.

“I’m going to stay with my sister for a while.”

He looked down for a moment, took a breath. When he spoke again, his tone even and unemotional.

“I’m a photographer. A month ago, someone broke into my apartment and stole everything I had—all my equipment, my furniture, clothes… everything. I’m homeless now.” He seemed to cringe a little as he said the word. Homeless. As if the very idea of it was still foreign to him.

“I got enough money from a local church to get back to my sister’s, so I’m going to stay with her until a spot at the men’s shelter opens up.” As he spoke, his posture slouched, almost as if he were deflating. Suddenly, I realized that the man I’d first judged as another grungy nomad was actually an exhausted, unfortunate victim with whom I had more in common than I could have imagined. We were both silent for a long moment.

“That’s a good thing, though, right? You’ve got family to help you. You’re not alone.” I must have sounded like a crazed, desperate cheerleader. I couldn’t even imagine his fear and hopelessness, yet I was trying to Pollyanna him with platitudes.

He looked at me for just a moment, and there might even have been a flash of resentment in his shadowed eyes, but his response was benevolent. “You’re right,” he sighed. “I’m not alone.”

We chatted for the rest of the trip. When we stopped for breakfast, I bought him what he later told me was his first meal in a day and a half. He was gracious, but I could see his pride was bruised. When I finally disembarked in Virginia, he gave me his sister’s address and shook my hand warmly. He wished me luck with my decision and career, and I wished him luck on his new journey.

Jim and I corresponded for a few years, but I lost track of him after he moved out of the men’s shelter and got his own apartment and job. I still think of him sometimes, remembering the lessons he taught me about not making assumptions and being grateful for what you have. Life is unpredictable, and none of us are immune to its whims. We can choose to bemoan the state of our shoes, or we can be thankful that we have feet!

pencil

Lindseye Greye is a writer-turned-musician-turned-nurse-turned-writer. She currently resides in Kentucky, where she is working on her first novel and rediscovering the joys of writing. Samples of her poetry, essays, novel-in-progress and other original works are showcased at www.shadesofgreye.com. Lindseye can be reached at Lindseye[at]shadesofgreye.com.

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