Was it too much to ask? I look up to find a tall man confused – probably wondering if I was worth a shot or not. I wanted to convince him to give me the two pennies he’d been juggling in his palms. I wanted to polish his shoe, and tell him that I’ll earn it – that I won’t take his money for free. If none of the above managed to draw the coins towards me, I wanted to give him enough reasons. But all I could manage to do was look at him. Words were swallowed in the darkness of this mess I brought myself in. Tears were dried because the skin needed them more than the world. He looked at me, still having the same question mark on his face, and I smiled. I don’t want him to rush his decision. I looked around to find a lady walking towards me. She gave me a side glance and sped up her walk. Her shoes didn’t seem to quite suit her style. They were awkwardly shining in between the dull colours she had picked for herself. While I was busy auto correcting her sense of fashion, I looked at the man right in front of me.
His suit was well designed, but for some reason it was too dark for him. I had the icky look on my face, and I’m sure he noticed that. When I looked at him, he was carrying a faint smile on his face – probably a smile of mockery when you realise you’re much bigger than the person in front of you.
“What’s that look on your face?” he asked me. I chose to ignore it. None of his business anyway, I mean, who cares about what I think? Ya know, take this car for example – the one right in front of me, yea. It’s got such a nice shade of blue to it, but the grey stickers play the spoil sport. When will people learn the sense of design? It’s simple logic – catch complimentary colours, and then experiment with your style.
“I see you’re very curious.”
“Ah,” I spoke softly “The car’s grey spoils the look.”
He turned back to look at it, and then nodded.
“What do you think?”
“Black’s best for that model.”
“Hmm,” he looked unintentionally curious. I wonder what made him ask that. He looked at me again, clearly his brain was doing huge calculations – well, I speculate he’s a rich guy from his clothes, why not give me the two pennies, and move on in life? Or don’t, and then move on in life? How hard is it to make a fifty-fifty decision, anyway. I closed my eyes because the sun was getting to me, and my eyes had started to become weak.
“You got a kid?” he asked me, swallowing his pride.
I nodded gently, opening my eyes to find him crouched. He looked at me, and kept the pennies back inside his long coat. He saw my eyes follow the coins as if they’re the mice to my cat. I wonder if he’s just going to have a chat with me, and make a mockery out of me after finding out how miserable my life had become, or he’s just going to eat up my time and leave without giving me any. I hate to admit it, but I rather spend this moment asking for money than sit and chat about my tide of disasters.
“Oh, don’t worry,” he smiled, looking at my eyes “They’re yours, alright.”
I smiled faintly, still wondering what he was going to do. He looked at the ground, and then borrowed one of my half-drenched-half-torn newspapers and sat on top of it. His pant started to get a dark patch below his thighs suggesting the water was being soaked by the posh clothes. I joined my hands again, because the least I could do was appreciate him for coming down to my level – ain’t no one, I repeat, ain’t no one has ever done that before. Heck, half the world doesn’t know I exist; despite the fact that they see me dragging my mouldering body aimlessly.
“What’s your name?” he asked me, looking around the mess I lived in.
“George.” I softly answered his question.
“Hey, George! I’m Gregory.” he smiled, and extended his hand forward.
I grabbed his hand with both my weak palms, as I could barely stop them from shivering. I, for once, let guilt take over me because for some reason, it didn’t feel right to shake hands with a man of this stature. At least, I don’t deserve it. Why didn’t he just throw those two coins on my face, and walk away? Now I have another problem to deal with. Who is this guy, anyway? And why does he care?
“Where do you live?” he spoke, after analysing something.
“Everywhere.” is all that I could answer to that.
“What about your family?”
“Somewhere.” I murmured.
“Well, let’s go find them then?”
I shook my head. I wasn’t ready, I had a target to achieve. I had to earn a minimum of a five dollars before this thought even lingered in my head.
“But why?” he spoke after looking at me cursing to myself.
“5 dollars!” I replied, hesitant to speak further – my throat hurts.
He looked at me, and tried to figure out what I meant. I didn’t have the strength to look him in the eye, so I started staring at the road wondering where that ant would end up at sun down. I see him get up, and then extend his hand towards me again. I strain my neck to look at his face.
“Come on, now. Don’t leave me hanging!” he spoke to me, smiling. I didn’t know how to take this gesture. Was he being too kind only to ditch me later? Was he one of those who couldn’t see the world wrong? Or was he just playing around? No. I don’t want to go where you’re taking me. I don’t know you. I don’t like this place, but I know this place. And hence, I’m okay to be here. I have to support a family, I can’t just go with you. Please understand that. I don’t want to see new things. I’m scared of change. I’m tired of changes. I don’t have the strength in me anymore, Mr. Gregory. I reached out to him, and he quickly grabbed my hand, pulling it to make me clumsily stand on my legs.
“There we go!” he exclaimed. I looked at him, clueless as always. He started walking away from me, probably expecting me to follow. But why should I? I don’t want to go. I can not risk my greed for a better income only to be cheated later on. I see him turn back.
“Come on, it’s okay!” he tried assuring me, his hands making the famous follow me gesture. I walk behind him. I couldn’t help but notice how weak my legs had become. I couldn’t help but notice how the people looked at me – like I’m the one they’ll taste for dinner tonight. I couldn’t help but notice the clothes Mr. Gregory was wearing. He got to be a businessman in my head. The ones that sit behind a desk while the rest are dancing to the tunes of his long fingers. I don’t trust these businessmen. For all I know, he might be taking me as a showpiece to help the world see how his company helps the ones in need. Well, only people like us know the bitter truth – one day of quality food, and the rest goes in just asking them to give me a piece of bread for my kids back home.
Mr. Gregory stopped in front of a car – a decent car, and opened the door for me. I quietly sat in the back seat. He closed the door, and made himself comfortable in the driver’s seat. I wonder why he hasn’t kept a driver yet. Or maybe he has, it’s none of my business anyway. The car is well maintained, and there are few water bottles in the cabin, and a small TV, if that’s what it’s called, in front of the back seats.
“You holding up well?” he looked at me through the rear view mirror. I nodded, still very scared to open my mouth, and ask him questions. I looked at the water bottle. I could feel the veins inside me drying up, and the brain echoing me to reach out and gulp the entire liquid inside my mouth. I swallowed the little saliva in my mouth, and folded my arms because I didn’t want to dirty his meticulously polished car.
“You must be thirsty?” Mr. Gregory spoke after driving for a few minutes, and getting held up on the signal. I nodded, and smiled faintly. He grabbed a bottle, and passed it back to me. As soon as my shivering hands touched the bottle, a huge gush of gratitude took over me as it been a long time since I got to drink chilled water – leave alone that, it must have been quite some time since my family enjoyed quality water. I don’t trust the government taps. They started billing them late this year, wonder if they even take us into consideration or not. I carefully twisted the cap open, to realise it just wasn’t any water – it was an energy drink. I remember this from the bottle I found last week. It smelt different. I took a sip and felt like I found my elixir. I had to take this for Mary, and John! They’d love it. I decided to not give the bottle back, and I slowly kept it next to my legs. Somebody told me that if you didn’t see something, you’d eventually forget about it.
He drove for a few minutes more until finally stopping next to an armed gate. I saw one of his guards peep inside the car, and give me the disgusting look I was familiar with. He signalled the other man, and the gates opened for us. I looked around to find an independent house, completely different from what I was expecting, at least. It wasn’t something a businessman would possess, well because it didn’t have the “looks” as they like to call it. For me a house is just a place I can crash in after a day’s work and keep my family safe. I think I’m starting to like this man. He parked the car, got out, and opened my door.
“You’d like to come in, George.” he spoke, signalling one of the guards to close the gates. Before stepping out, I took his bottle, held it firmly in my hand, and then got down of the car. He smiled, and walked towards the pathway amidst the garden. I looked around to find a gardener looking at me, he smiled which made me realise that Mr. Gregory was a kind-hearted man, otherwise that man should’ve been upset by now. We reached the front entrance, and a lady opened the door. Neatly dressed, she must’ve been his maid, but it seems too early to judge considering he likes to keep things simple. We made our way to the hall – as big as it can get – which got me thinking that the house ain’t all that small from the inside, and I might change my views about him.
“Sit.” he commanded, after removing his coat and handing it over to her. I waited for him to sit down first, as a sign of respect, and he appreciated it with a smile.
“Make two coffees, and um,” he looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked back at him. He smiled, and continued, “get those plain biscuits, will ya? Thanks Anne!”
She smiled back, and disappeared within the walls of the hall.
“So, George,” he came to a more serious posture “tell me where you’re from. And a little bit about yourself, too. You feel good here?”
“Yea, Yea. Actually, this is great! My kid and wife would love to visit here.” That is the longest sentence I’ve spoken in a while. I kept the bottle next to me on the sofa, and tried to look him in the eye.
“What’s their names?”
“She’s um Mary, my wife,” I spoke chuckling at the image of her trying to be funny “and the kid’s John – he’s, um, 12.”
I didn’t know what else to speak, so I decided to keep quiet. He kept looking at me for a moment or two, and then asked me that one question which has never been asked by a stranger.
“How’d you end up here?” he asked “I mean, in the streets?”
“Well,” I hesitated first and then realised it was of no use anyway, I was too far gone to come back “Back in the day, I was a waiter at Joe’s and well, I didn’t earn much, but it was enough for our family.”
I got lost in the turn of events, and words didn’t seem to have the courage to come out in the open.
“Oh, the one at Church Street?” Mr. Gregory spoke as if he’d been there a couple of times. I nodded and questioned myself why he would even visit that area.
“I sent my youngest to go work there for a couple of months.” He cleared my doubts “seems like a decent place to me. What happened?”
Anne arrived with a tray full of biscuits accompanied by two cups, and a few tissues. She kept it on the table in front of us, and then looked at me.
“Sir, please add sugar as you like.” she spoke, smiling. I smiled back at her.
“Thank you.” I replied, as she bowed down slightly facing Mr. Gregory, and upon his gentle nod, turned back and disappeared where she came from.
“How much do you get in a day?” he asked me.
“Anywhere from a dollar to seven, or maybe eight.”
“That is very less. Wow. How do you survive?” he sounded disappointed, naturally.
“I don’t. I don’t have a place to live. I don’t have a home for my family. I can’t give John what he deserves, I can’t make Mary feel loved anymore, and I can’t even help myself out of this mess. I can’t work a lot because I don’t have any qualifi…” I broke down, and tried to control my emotions – somewhere I wanted to bury them because I was ashamed I didn’t fight back. I was ashamed that I couldn’t make a better situation for myself, for my family. I don’t know why I am getting these thoughts only now. I see him get up and walk towards me. He picks up a tissue paper from the tray and hands it over to me. I wipe my tears, hanging my head in shame.
“It’s okay. Take your time.” he comforted me, and went back to his place. A sign of a true gentleman. “Well, we can talk about it later, if you’d like. Do you know why you’re here?”
I shook my head slowly, still lost in thoughts.
“I’m offering you a job, and a place to stay. And by a job, I mean I’ll have you recommended for a job of your liking, and how you do after that is up to you. I won’t be helping you over there. I’ll give your family a place to stay until you can provide for yourself.”
I couldn’t fathom the service he was giving me. This opportunity made me realise how lucky I must’ve been. Never in these seven years of struggle had I ever thought I’d meet a man like Mr. Gregory, leave alone that, he would then go ahead and offer me a job? Wow. I threw myself at his feet, and sobbed because I didn’t want to live like this anymore. What he just did for me, means more than just the world to me, and I will be forever indebted to him. He held my shoulders and helped me stand up. I joined my palms and couldn’t help but cry. He got up, and walked towards the end of the room and decided to make a phone call. I was shivering and my weak legs forced me to get back to the sofa. I wiped my tears, but still couldn’t fully resist the emotions. Mary would be pleased! John’s too young to understand, but I’m sure the happiness will get to him one way or the other.
Mr. Gregory walked back, and sat opposite to me.
“Sometimes, all we need is for someone to reflect on what we’ve been doing all our lives. You might not want to make a change, or even think about your misery for that matter. If I wouldn’t have stopped by, you’d still be satisfied with the kind of life you’re living just because your mind has been tuned to it…”
I nodded, listening to every bit of his words.
“…but when I forced you to think about it, you realised what a mess you’ve made out of your little fortunes. I still don’t know what happened, but I’m sure it can be fixed. And I will help you fix it. Okay? Relax now. It’s gonna be alright. I’ll send someone to help you look for your family.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Is this all a dream? I don’t know. But it looks good. And I can’t afford to even risk this opportunity even in my dream, so I will take it, and I will make the best out of it.
2 years, 4 months later.
I decided to pay a visit to Mr. Gregory. He was busy with a new project and I couldn’t help but ask him about it. I got my car refuelled, Mary and John decided to tag along too, and who could stop a wife now, aye? It was a twenty minute drive from my place, a small independent house which I’ve taken on rent, not too far from the city, and a nice place to live in, actually. It has a lot of farms around, and it was always a dream to be living like this, ya know?
The guards were now familiar with me, and they welcomed my car straight away. I parked at the usual place, asking John and Mary to go ahead. I looked up from the windscreen to find him talking on the phone in his balcony. He waved, and John ran towards the front gate. Mr. Gregory’s home felt like ours, thanks to the hospitality of this great man. I don’t leave any stones unturned to praise this man whenever I get a chance. If it weren’t for him, I’d still be roaming in the streets aimlessly, hoping that one day a miracle would happen and things will fix itself.
Sometimes it’s really hard to believe how he managed to understand exactly what I want, without ever having to ask me. This a sign of true genius.
I guess the entry of Mr. Gregory taught me two things – opportunities will always be given to you, no matter how late – you just have to see them, grab them and make the most out of them. Second, there’s no such thing as easy money. I am so grateful to him for making me understand that. He gave me a job, but made sure that I survived on my own. I had to go through the rigorous interviewing rounds, had to prove my metal, and then finally seal my berth. It wasn’t easy, I can tell ya that. So, be prepared, never, I repeat, never lose hope and just keep trying. And please, for God’s sake, don’t give up on your talent. Don’t. That’s the only thing which can save your life, if you don’t get to meet someone like Mr. Gregory.
I got a phone call just before I opened the door of the car. An unknown number? I wonder who it is.
“Hello?” I asked the voice behind the phone call.
“Hello, sir. Am I speaking to Mr. George, head of design?”