Leaning on the wall, I waited outside the grocery store close to the slum community we regularly visit. My job was to watch the backpacks while the craft supplies and food for the day were being purchased. Facing the street, I half-heartedly watched the traffic blur by. A man caught my attention. His hair matte and his clothes were in tatters, covered in black soot. He awkwardly moved forward on one foot, hobbling along with a crutch under one arm. A straw bag was flung over his other shoulder, which more than likely contained all his worldly possessions.
I had a nudge to respond, to give him either a drink or food that I had in my bag. I shamefully ignored the nudge. Wasn’t it my job to watch the bags? He didn’t approach me; I didn’t make a move. He looked towards me and I looked away. He walked on down the street. After the supplies were purchased, we made our way to the tiny church in the middle of the community where we held English, other vocational classes, and a feeding project. Those who stood outside their homes and along the path called out greetings.
Standing in the doorway to welcome the children coming to class, I saw him. The man from the street was sitting in a plastic chair just a few feet away. His crutch leaned on the wall behind him and his bag was at his feet. The pastor we partner with introduced me. I shook his hand and he looked up at me with a toothless grin. The pastor went on to explain that the man often came by the church to sweep and clean in exchange for food.
My daughter taught her weekly baking class. Delicious smells swirled inside the small ramshackle building as pineapple cakes cooled on folding tables. The man’s eyes danced as he sat in his chair eating cake and holding his cold drink. He stayed for the meal. I felt ashamed.
A reminder of a missed opportunity to care. I hope to do better next time.