my boys were the first to see him, as i focused on threading between the cars, their hands clenched in mine, as we cross the asphalt expanse toward the relative safety of the discount store.
half hidden between two coke machines, shopping cart pulled across the opening, for modesty, a man stands, shirt tangling in his arms, collar still sucked tight around his head as he pulls it off. his back is pitted and pulled, a skin map to hardship. shorts slung low by a too big belt, the first yawnings of his crack peek over the waist line.
still facing the brick wall, perhaps pretending we would not or could not see him, he reaches into a white plastic bag emblazoned with the store logo and spins the cap off a bottle of water. lifting it high he spills it over his grease strung hair, across his face, round glittering beads capturing in the brambles of his beard.
"dad, what is he doing?"
"taking a shower, it seems."
his thick fingers work into the cracks and creases of his face, then slip into plastic bag again, removing a new maroon t shirt, obtained in the two dollar sale bin by the checkout. we are almost upon him, as he wraps his old shirt in the plastic before stuffing it into a large duffel by his feet.
passing him, the automatic doors woosh open, swallowing us into the safe confines of the store, but my boys stop, turning to look back through the glass. following their gaze and i see him looking back at us. the skin around is eyes is pale and puffy round, but through the slits i see the man and his fat bottom lip turns in a smile before he picks up his bag and walks away, toward the road.
there are numerous questions, many i don't have a good answer to, but you can see it has crawled under my oldest son's skin, an insatiable itch he needs to scratch. he falls silent as we move up and down the aisles of the store and even after we are back in the car on the way home. i let him think, because maybe his generation, if they are uncomfortable with the answers we provide, will come up with better ones.