It was a busy lunch at White Castle. Linda had just gotten her order, and practically had to fight her way through the disorganized line that was behind her. She scanned the tables, finding that no one was in a hurry to leave theirs. She then decided to eat outside on one of the benches several blocks away.
Linda found an empty bench and sat down to begin her meal, watching her surroundings. It was just as busy out here as in the White Castle. Cars zoomed by, with the occasional conflict. Uniformed employees headed to or from their lunch break. The only kids who passed were too young for school.
When Linda was halfway through her cheeseburger, she heard yelling. She looked a few yards away to see a man winning a shouting contest with another man.
The screaming man was fairly well-dressed in a collar shirt and casual pants. The other was wearing dirty, white T-shirt, jeans, and boots.
Linda couldn't finish eating as she watched the first man wildly wave his hands and point fingers as he yelled. The entire rant wasn't clear, but it was on the topic of money. When the first man finally stopped yelling, he stormed across the street. The other man walked up the block, opposite of Linda's direction. A woman took her son's hand and walked away when he approached them.
Linda had seen the second man many times in passing. Nearly every time she went through that part of town, she'd see him. He was either asking people for money, sitting on building steps, holding a can of change, or just wandering about. She typically ignored him, as more fortunate people often do, but she felt especially bad for him now. She had never seen him treated that badly before, and it puzzled her how people could be so cruel to those with less than them, just for having less. With her White Castle bag in hand, she rushed over to the man.
When she caught up to him, she called out,
"Excuse me, sir."
The man turned to her, but kept walking. He was bald and had a graying beard. His clothes were covered in dirt and grass stains. His sleeves were torn, as if they were once full-length.
"What?" he asked harshly as he stopped.
Linda flinched at his anger, but otherwise remained calm. "Would you like a burger?" She reached into her bag and handed the man a slider.
Cautiously, the man took the burger. He then removed it from its box and suspiciously examined the bread, meat, and toppings. Then he slowly took a bite.
His features softened as he chewed his food. He took another, more eager bite.
Linda stood awkwardly, before sitting on the bench the was behind them. She was surprised when he sat beside her.
"Why?" he mumbled when he finished the burger.
"Why did you give me that?"
"Because I saw that guy yelling at you and I felt like doing something."
"Why?" he pressed. "For all you know, I could be a scammer, and he found me out."
Linda shrugged. "For all I know, you could have lost your home in a fire." The man stared in surprise, then nodded and looked across the street. "Do you want another burger?"
The man quickly looked back at her and nodded.
Linda gave him another burger and retrieved the one she hadn't finished. The two strangers ate in silence. They shared several more burgers.
"Sorry for yelling at you," the man said as he started his third burger. "People almost never give me real food."
"No problem. What do you mean by 'real food'?"
"I mean, people usually give me trash they find on the ground and wrap it in foil, or unfinished food from the garbage cans. Childish crap like that. Don't think for a second that people like me get used to food from the trash cans. But I don't have money to buy fresh food, so I have to eat some of that stuff instead." Linda gasped. She couldn't imagine having to live like that every day. "I see you a lot around here a lot. What do you do?"
"I'm a newspaper editor."
"I see. I used to be a crane operator. It was nice. Good pay. I liked the work. After more than 6 years with the same company, I got laid off. Then I couldn't pay my bills anymore, and I lost my apartment. I was living out here for three years."
"Wow." Linda did not like her job, but she was suddenly grateful for having one.
"Yeah. I'm too old to get a decent job. Plus, I even don't know enough to get a good-paying job."
"How old are you?" Linda flinched at her own words. She hoped it wasn't a rude question.
"51. No one's gonna hire a 51-year-old man living on the street. No one even cares about me."
"I care about you, sir," Linda said more assertively than she knew she could. "I cared enough to give you some food."
"Yes. Thank you. Especially for giving me someone to talk to. I never shared my story with anyone."
The man smiled for the first time since meeting Linda.
"Really? You didn't have a family or friends when you lost your stuff?"
"No. I've never been married, and my co-workers were just co-workers. People around here certainly aren't going to listen."
The two of them went silent. Conversation was not one of Linda's strengths. She hadn't even expected the man to start a conversation with her.
"I should be going now," Linda said after what seemed like hours of silence.
"Okay. It was nice talking to you. My name is Walter."
"Nice talking to you, Linda."
The woman felt awkward for not having as big a side in the conversation.
"Sorry for not talking very much... Walter."
"That's fine. You were a good listener."
Linda thought for a moment, then said her goodbye. She crossed the street and returned to White Castle. When she got there, only three people were in line.
"Welcome to White Castle," the woman said from behind the counter. "May I take your order?"
Linda looked at the menu, then at the employee. "Yes. I would like a Crave Case."