Mark Tucker was the sort of person who looked at you real hard when it was for the first time. Only you wouldn't know it because his eyes were always covered by sunglasses. Some might consider him intimidating but behind the vesture of black clothing and tattoos, he was an average guy. Through those dark glasses, he had seen good and he had seen bad. And like all of us, he had been the catalyst for the bad more times than he would like to remember.
Those days were over for him now. His way of kissing them goodbye left a sweeter taste on his lips than the bitterness he had encountered in the past. His entire life was illustrated from where his pulse beat on the insides of his wrists to the tops of his sorrow laden shoulders. His shoulders bore the worst of times, mostly covered by sleeves. The kinds of times you wouldn't want to show off at work. The times he had broken hearts and overdosed, experienced deaths and made countless mistakes.
Below his elbows, however, were the good times. While there were fewer than bad, his pulse tapped them 100,000 times a day keeping them alive. They were the birth of his son, embracing Jesus. What sometimes proved to be unfortunate for Mark was the simple fact that no one looked at him closely enough to see that his at-first-sight-abrasive tattoos were gentle tributes to what he had done right in his life.
On this particular day, Mark was particularly exhausted. He had spent the past ten days lifting, nailing, and sweating on a shadeless construction site. Finally, this was his day off. The day he would get groceries and sleep. He didn't know when he walked through the automatic exit door of the supermarket that his plans would change.
With each step he took toward the subway station, he felt the energy drain from his body. With each thud of his boot on the pavement, he wished he was in bed. In his weary daze, he almost tripped over a pair of short legs that were stretched out before him. He stopped abruptly and looked down at what his periphery had noticed.
Slumped against a building sat a young girl. She couldn't have been more than thirteen years old, but only her face suggested her age. She was dressed the way a middle-aged man would be, clad in an oversized plaid shirt and paint-splattered jeans. Even her smell suggested that she was elderly. While more fortunate thirteen year old girls seemed to bathe in cotton candy, this child reeked of stale urine and mothballs. While more fortunate thirteen year olds cried over unrequited crushes and low allowances, this child cried for entirely graver circumstances.
Her face told an epic of despair and anguish. Though young, unmarred by the wrinkles that life bequeaths upon those who have lived it too long, it was streaked with dirt and tears.
Mark, touched by the vulnerability and sadness in this girl, placed his plastic bags on the ground and knelt beside her. No sooner had he lowered himself to be by her side then a woman who had been sitting across the street at the bus stop had noticed and stood abruptly. She had been watching the girl for some time, and seeing this burly, tattooed man stop in his tracks and approach the child raised an uneasiness from the pit of her stomach. As the woman clutched the umbrella that could double as a mace and prepared to sprint to the child's aid, Mark sifted through one of his bags. From it, he removed a bottle of water, a package of rice cakes, and the three apples he had just purchased. He set them in the girl's lap.
The woman from across the street came up fast holding her umbrella like a baseball bat, ready to swing. Just as she was about to bring a whole new meaning to castigation, she glimpsed the three red apples in the girl's lap, and the faint hint of a smile on her lips. By the time Mark had stood and continued walking to the station, the woman had lowered the umbrella. She looked toward the ground at the girl, who was gulping the water down, and up toward where Mark had headed, but he was gone and she stood dumbfounded on the street for a moment before walking so slowly back to the bus stop.