Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Banana Man

A "homeless" man panhandling holds his hand in front of my face expectantly. With a sad smile and a sorry, I refuse him aid. He continues down the line. This car is full of bad will. Cold stares, humphs, sighs and faces glowing with annoyance greet his requesting hand--devoid, except for a dime and a penny that haughtily refuse to jingle. Maybe if they made a merry little song, we'd be more apt to add more coin to the choir. Off he goes despite previous rebukes...same expectant hand cupped and thrust under more unsympathetic noses. He reaches a man deeply engrossed in eating his banana. It's covered in brown spots and looks less than appetizing but this man is savoring every bite...not even bothering to discard those annoying tendrils, part peel and part fruit, that don't taste like much and have a funky texture and snuggle down to sleep in between your teeth.

I noticed this man earlier, on the panhandler's first sweep. Partially because as a young woman traveling alone on the subway, it is imperative that I am alert and aware of my surroundings, so I was aware that he was of average height, had a healthy build, dressed in dark, slightly dingy clothing, with a hat and hood obscuring a portion of his face. He seemed serene enough but the ultra slight, barely perceptible movement of his lips and sporadic but vigorous darting of his eyes also struck me. This behavior is usually attributed to those who are unwell in mind. But moving lips and eyes are also displayed by those deep in thought, more often than not problem solving thought. Think pursing, biting in an attempt to facilitate focus, nibbling to ease the tension some thoughts arouse, licking. Think side to side, circular motions, scanning. If he was crazy, I was curious and if he was thinking, I was mulling over what he might be pondering. I also noticed him because he was visibly saddened, maybe angered, by the cold responses to the panhandler’s begging. And he looked away from the scene as the panhandler struggled to maintain his balance and a shred of dignity as the train swayed and he made his way to the far end of the subway car.

Some stops later the beggar re-enters the subway car. His palm is as pitifully full as it was on his initial run, and now instead of blaming the lack of coins already present, I blame him. The hand is invasive and aggressive. It is more of a demand for assistance than a quiet plea for anything that can be spared. One person isn’t turned off by it. When the expectant hand is thrust towards Banana Man, he extends one of his bananas. The care with which he selects it and the solemnity with which he proffers it indicates to me that these bananas are all this man has by way of sustenance. It helps me understand the head that lowered and the mouth that sagged when the panhandler was refused aid. I smile at this selflessness…but then my mouth sags as his golden gift is swatted away.

“Nah man, I want cash,” spits the panhandler.

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