The old, homeless man leans against the building. His eyes are full of tears and years, his beard is twisted by circumstance, his mind is reflective and meditative, and he looks at me.
His weather-beaten, ruined face contrasts with my smooth, sheltered expression, and his downcast eyes slowly come up to meet my own as I wait to cross the street. He sees my expensive backpack, holding empty, resentful knowledge, and my clean, well-groomed hair and clothes which show him exactly how much I am worth.
I want to give him much more than spare change, much more than lunch or a good drink. . . . So I offer him company and relief from boredom.
The old homeless man has a name much more distinguished than my own. Both of our bags hold seemingly worthless things; mine holding volumes of texts I never want to know, his holding trinkets and trash of a lifetime. The man has no home; he is imprisoned into vagrancy, forced into a lifestyle of loitering. My home is a temporary stop, the first of many on a road going nowhere. I have never known such discomfort or boredom, but he has never known such responsibility or imprisonment. I have known opportunity, and he has known freedom, and both of us have gotten nowhere.
We sit together on the corner of where each of our roads has taken us, as I take away his boredom and he takes away my responsibility, sitting and talking about nothing.
When I finally return to my world, I know I will always remember with firm, crisp memory the old man's crooked mouth, his uneven face, his unkempt eyebrows, his dirty pants, his bag of infinite nothings, and his slow smile. I know I will always remember these things about him, but I know I will never know which one of us was really richer, and which one of us was really free.