The snow glittered around us. All imperfections hidden under a fresh layer of snow. The driver used her brush to tap on the windshield wipers. The one on the passenger side flipped off.
In my writers group there is a ten year difference between all the members. So the driver, the oldest, got back in the car while the two youngest struggled to get the wiper back on. The poor light and lack of practice and the cold seeping into my fingers did not help.
A man passing by asked if we needed help.
I said sure and offered to hold his bag. He handed me a heavy bag with two handles above a bulging opening.
I used my phone to shine light on what he was doing. That’s when I noticed the skin of his fingers showing through the holes in his gloves. He was young maybe mid-twenties. Sandy brown hair poked out from under dark cap. For the first time I noticed his jacket was missing a button and did not seem warm.
I called time. That wiper was not going to go on in these circumstances. We offered him a ride and for a moment I thought he would take it, but his face closed and he said no.
We thanked him and he walked away.
The driver said we should have given him some money. I have to admit to being torn by that. He was young. Why was he homeless? Was it drugs? If we gave him money would it help him or not help him. But it was Minnesota in the winter. The next day the high was supposed to be -16.
So we got cash and I hopped out and followed his foot steps. I turned left and the foot prints just ended. I had all sort of crazy thoughts. About what his disappearing might mean. Like it was some sort of test and I had failed. Hell, I even had the idea of Angels pop in my head. (writer brain strikes at the craziest times)
They pulled forward in the car.
“Get in. He went right.”
And sure enough across the red light we could see a figure. He turned again before the light changed. We turned where we thought he had, but the trail ended again. There were a couple people out, but they were not this young man.
He had disappeared again.
Not quite ready to give up, the driver circled the block. The next pass we spotted him by the back door of a shop by a dumpster.
He had a ratty cigarette in his mouth. I approached him and handed him the money. “For trying to help.”
“For real?” He seemed genuinely shocked.
“Yeah” At that moment I wished I had more. Or that I could offer him a place to stay.
Then he gave me a hug.
Back in the car, the driver felt like it was meant to happen. I think she might have gotten teary even. My other friend stayed silent on the matter.
I don’t know how I feel about it. Should we have offered him more? Did that money help him? Or was it used to get high?
I hope that he was, at the very least, able to stay warm. I hoped he was able to find a home.