The old man walked up the wide sidewalk, right on the edge of the big city park, as the traffic zoomed by beside him, in a mad frenzy to get to the next intersection. The old man was draped in sweaty smelly clothes, several layers of them, which created a kind of force field around him, a field of stink that was almost visible in the sunlit air of this particular afternoon. Being protected by such a field, in a day such as this, made the old man feel invulnerable and safe, and he walked as if he truly had no care in the world, which was almost true, except he had been hungry for the last few days, very hungry, too hungry to ignore it, and he had just been lucky enough to find three cans of dog food by the side of a parked car. He took them without looking back, in one quick swift motion that would have looked like a single silver curve cutting through the green and brown of the bushes and the walls in the background, except nobody was looking so it didn’t look like anything at all. He placed them deep in his thick armor of jackets and shirts and held onto them with his left hand, while looking all around him to make sure that nobody was running after him, to make sure that nobody was about to completely ruin this beautiful sun drenched day by calling the cops on him and then he would have to talk and then he would have to explain and then he might even have to spend an afternoon in a dark room surrounded by angry men and desperate men and sad men and scared men and he would much rather be out here, in the open air. Wasn’t that the point anyway?
He looked around at the two joggers who purposefully did not look at him. Two white men in long red and blue shorts, talking as they ran, their T-shirts drenched in sweat, their arms glistening. The old man knew he could look at any civilian with impunity since they would never look back, he reminded them of things they would rather forget, they in turn reminded him of what he wished to remember: that what they had did not pay for what they lost and here he now had everything, for he had been hungry in the last few days but now he had food and that was all he was really lacking. That and a screwdriver or a knife with which to open the cans. For that he might need some help.
So he walked straight into the park, crossing the intersection as a sightseeing bus went by, several pairs of eyes landing on him and quickly looking away. He could feel the heat from them almost as distinctly as the heat from the sun itself, and they were all fuckers, he said to himself, they didn’t know what life was really about, how could they, not up there in their red bus staring out at the world as if it was some goddamn movie. This was no movie, not a drama, not a comedy, not a thriller, not a romance. It wasn’t anything they could wrap their little minds around, all those dumb civilians staring down at him from their red sightseeing bus. It wasn’t for nothing that he was out here and they were there and he didn’t envy them one little bit. He would rather die than be one of them. Here, where things were real, where so many paths extended before him, covered in asphalt blue and sidewalk white and long leaf green, here, where he was free to take any of them or none of them at all, here, all he needed was a screwdriver or a knife to make his existence complete.
He found it in the form of a young Latino man with whom he had shared a drink or two in the past. He was lying against a tree, on the edge of a dark patch of green bushes and he looked up at the old man and said “hello” and the old man looked down at him and nodded and then he said, “hey, you hungry?” and the Latino man nodded and the old man said, “I’ve got some food but I will need something to open a can with. I’ll share with you if you have something” and the Latino man asked, “Is this some kind of trick or something?” and the old man shook his head, and he didn’t take any offense to the question because he would have asked the same question if someone had made the same suggestion to him. It was all a dance, a dance he himself had danced a thousand times.
Soon enough the young Latino man said, “look, let’s go up behind the big white building… there’s some tables there and there’s hardly ever any people…” and the old man nodded and he knew the place that the young man meant so they walked off together. Now they both felt the heat of people’s eyes as they stared briefly at them, crossing the main road, walking slowly up the little curved road that lead out of the park, and then finally turning onto the little paved path and onto the abandoned little courtyard. They sat in front of each other on the old dirty wooden tables and then the old man took out the cans and the young man nodded and said, “yeah, these look good, very good…” and the old man couldn’t resist so he said, “yeah, I told you… we’re gonna have ourselves a banquet today!” The young man nodded with eager approval. Then he took out a big long screwdriver that was crusted over with rust and dirt and he went right to work on opening the three cans.
Just as the high pitched sound of the metal being cut was starting to echo lightly over the overgrown pavement, there was movement from a bench just a few feet away. A second old man got up from where he had been sleeping, lying out in the sun, his back on the little green bench, his already sunburned face staring up at the empty sky. He saw them sitting at the old table and opening the cans. He could smell the rich scent of the dog food and he nodded with instant recognition, and then he said, “You got something good there…can I have the leftovers…?”
The first old man took a deep breath and regretted having come here, and maybe he could have had three cans all to himself if he had a screwdriver or a knife to begin with, but now it was two and now it was three and he couldn’t just eat happily while this old man sat there staring at him, because it would be too much like him staring at people eating, while he was trembling with gut wrenching hunger. He didn’t know how they could do it. He only knew he had never learned the skill. Maybe some other day this old man would have had three cans of dog food and he would be the one whose stomach was growling and then he would remember the day he ate while the other one stared at him with animal need. It was all too much to think about so he just said, “well, we got three of them, and one of them is kind of dented… you can have that one…” and the young man looked up at him, just a bit annoyed that his work was being given away. But it was too late, because the second old man was already sitting beside them, and all their various smells combined into a single cloud of deep aroma. They ate quietly for it wasn’t that often that they had such a rich dinner and it wouldn’t do to talk in such a special occasion. Every so often they stared at each other, but none of them had anything to say, so then they just ate some more.
The first old man smiled. They sure didn’t know what they were missing, the civilians, nothing like being out here under the sky, eating and knowing that there is no care in the world, no care at all. No worries, no future, no past. Just three cans of dog food and the warm company of strangers.