The Shabby Man
The shabby man limped down the quiet street, pushing his shopping cart with great deliberation. Three wheels rattled on the pavement while the fourth rotated uselessly. Wide maples lined the manicured lawns on both side of the street but they offered the thin, bearded man little protection from the relentless sun.
A cleaning woman walked up the paving stone driveway to Number 67 as she did every Friday morning. She waved to the shabby man and shouted, “How you doing today, Marco?”
He released his grip on the handlebar and returned her wave; the morning sun glinted off the prosthetic steel hook where his hand had once been.
Marco heard a gentle hum behind him. He ignored the car and continued slowly down the center of the street as his rubber boots scuffed off the asphalt. The driver leaned on the horn, causing Marco to flinch, and he slowly made his way to the curb. The Mercedes passed him and pulled into the driveway at Number 38. A young man emerged from the car and pulled a set of golf clubs from the trunk.
The shabby man stopped in front of the young man’s house and removed his tattered overcoat, placing it with care over the handle of his cart.
“Scram, ya bum,” the young man said, a hint of menace in his deep voice. His slicked back hair fell behind the upturned collar of his golf shirt. He pointed at the shabby man, “Are ya deaf? Move along, asshole!” Marco detected a slight quiver in the young man’s hand as he pointed an accusatory finger. His other hand reached towards the handle of a golf club protruding from the bag.
The shabby man considered arguing with the young man, or perhaps even pissing on his lawn, but glanced at his cart and decided he couldn't afford to lose the cash from the recyclables. He didn't want to end up in jail again either. He gave the young man the evil eye for a few seconds and then wordlessly pushed his cart away.
Marco continued down the street and noticed an old man working in an open garage at Number 7. He paused to watch the man spill a plastic bucket of tin cans into a clear plastic bag. Many of the tins missed the mark and clattered on the concrete floor. The old man glanced at Marco for a moment but continued his work. The shabby man began to push his cart forward when the old man shouted to him from the garage.
“Hey, hold up a second,” he said, shuffling down the driveway. “That’s quite a collection of recyclables you’ve got there.”
Marco shrugged. “I’ve been collecting them from the streets and parks since last week.”
“That should get you a bit of money.”
“Yes, sir. At least 12 or 14 bucks I reckon.”
“What will you do with the money?”
“I’ll buy some cheese and meat. It’ll get me by until my next cheque.”
“Very good. I notice you pass by here regularly. Maybe you can help me out.”
Marco shrugged. “What do you want?”
“I was going to haul these bags to the recycle depot, but I’d spend a half hour waiting in line and I’d burn up more in gas getting there than what I’d make. Could you take these in for me?”
Marco eyed the man suspiciously. “I suppose…do I get to keep the money?”
“Yes, of course,” the old man said with a chuckle. “And here’s something extra for helping me out.” He offered the shabby man a folded up five dollar bill. Marco used his hook to gingerly pinch the money from the man’s fingers and slip it into his shirt pocket.
“The name’s Mitchell, by the way,” said the gaunt, old man. Marco nodded in return, noticing the old man’s yellowed skin.
The men hauled four bags of recyclables down the driveway and Marco piled them high atop the collection already in the shopping cart. Mitchell waved goodbye to Marco from the garage. As Marco waved back he noticed a grey-haired woman watching from an upper window of the house.
For the next several Fridays, Marco found clear bags of recyclables half way up Mitchell’s driveway. There was always a small envelope taped to one of the bags with a crisp five dollar bill folded inside. The grey-haired woman always peeked from the upstairs window as he loaded the bags in his cart.
One chilly, October morning Marco discovered no bags awaiting him. As he stared at the empty driveway the wind caused the curled, brown leaves to whisper around his boots. The sound reminded him of the desert sand during the war. He continued on his mission.
The next Friday there were still no bags. And none the week after that. Marco figured the grey-haired woman had finally put an end to his arrangement with Mitchell.
By mid-November, Marco had layered another jacket on top of his winter coat and wore a black toque to keep his head warm. The street was lined with cars down both sides. He noticed an elderly couple carrying a dish of food up to the front door of Number 7. The old grey-haired lady greeted them with a tight-lipped smile and glanced past them at Marco. He nodded and continued up the street to the recycling depot.
After collecting his money, Marco stopped into the dollar store and bought a bouquet of plastic flowers. He polished up a small sheet of tin he had found in a garbage can and fashioned it into the shape of a heart and slipped it over the stems of the daisies. He left the arrangement at the front door of Number 7 and pushed his cart back towards the men’s shelter.
The following Friday, Marco found a bag of recyclables in the driveway of Mitchell’s place. He opened the attached envelope and found a five dollar bill and small scrap of paper. ‘Thank you’ was written in small, precise letters. Marco glanced at the upstairs window and noticed the curtains flutter. The shabby man tucked the note and money into his shirt pocket with his hook and slowly pushed his cart towards the depot.
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