Prompt: Taste
Person: The homeless man

Being homeless wasn't awful. Sure, it had a lot downfalls. More than the positives. Far more than the positives. But it wasn't awful. When he first lost his home, everything he owned could fit into a a duffle bag and backpack. He had a camping pack with a sleeping bag, full of clothes, and packed with things he couldn't bear to lose. Small family heirlooms like rings and a little carved elephant his great grandfather made. Pictures of his family, just the important ones. All tucked neatly into a small towel. He was able to keep warm in the winter with the sleeping bag and his heavy tan coat he'd had for years. He was able to keep his sanity by looking at the pictures of his family or rubbing the soft wooden ridges of the elephant.

He was an alcoholic and a gambler. His family had numerous interventions and even sent him to rehab a couple of times, but he always relapsed. After the last one, his family wash their hands of him. He hadn't talked to his children in at least ten years. His wife divorced him and remarried. He didn't even know where any of them lived. Shortly after his last stint in rehab and a final failed intervention, his life started to spiral downhill. He continued to drink, funded by his savings and gambling since he had been out of a job for a while. Alcohol became a priority. He gambled to feed his addiction and one night he lost everything. He managed to stay in his apartment for an extra month by swearing he'd have the money for his landlord soon. When he couldn't scrounge up enough, he was evicted.

At first he was able to stay at shelters, ones farther up. He usually wouldn't stray too far during the day so he could be first in line that night. Soon he wore out his welcome. As he did at other shelters, until finally he just stayed on the streets. He usually found a place in an alley by a dumpster. Every now and then he'd stay at a shelter to shower, but those were few and very far between. He was so used to his own stench that he couldn't even smell it anymore. Most days he would beg for money or food, and most of the time someone would take pity on him and give him their change or bring him something to eat.

Now his luck was changing, and not in a good way. Maybe it was because summer was coming, and that meant graduations and vacations, but with the start of May, people were more stingy with their money. He was lucky if he got more than five dollars on a given day, and he had to be really careful how he spent it. Two burgers on the dollar menu could make him last, and he'd save the change for a can of beer. But even that wasn't enough. He was always hungry.

This particular day had been rough. In the last few days he'd barely had anything to eat. Half a grilled cheese one day, a half eaten apple and french fries the next, two dollar menu burgers, and then nothing for two days. He'd spent his last bit of change on beer, which in hindsight had been a bad idea. He could have fed himself for another day at least with that money. Not to mention, somebody had stolen his sleeping mat. Despite being hardened after so many years on the streets, he still hated sleeping on the wet, garbage-reeking concrete. He hadn't slept well for days.

Miserable and grumpy, he snuck through the open emergency gate in the subway and headed down and got on the 2 train. It had a ton of stops and it was as good of way as any to pass the time. He crumpled onto a two seater at the back of the car and fell asleep. It was much easier, oddly enough, to fall asleep on a crowded or loud subway car than it was on the ground.

He got a good doze in for the first few stops when he felt eyes on him. He cracked one eye open and caught the eye of the girl in the seat across from him. She quickly tore her eyes away, trying to pretend she hadn't been staring. He didn't care. He was used to people staring. He closed his eye again, thankful it wasn't the MTA police. A few stops later he peered through one eye again. The girl was watching him again. This time, she didn't look away. In fact, she gave him a small, empathetic smile. She was a cute girl, probably about his youngest daughter's age. He smiled back, even though he knew she wouldn't be able to see it through his beard. He glanced at her hands, holding a freshly baked loaf of artisan bread. What an odd thing to travel all the way into town for, just to get some bread. Surely there were places closer to her that sold regular old bread. Perplexed but unconcerned, he closed his eyes again and fell asleep.

Seconds later the train stopped and he had the urge to open his eyes again. It must have been the girl's stop, because she was standing. She leaned over to him, the bag of bread in her outstretched hand. "Here you go, sir. Please take it."

Overwhelmed by her kindness, he could only manage to spit out a thanks as he reached for the bag. She wished him a good day and exited the train. He was touched by her generosity. He couldn't remember the last time he had bread that wasn't sold at a fast food restaurant. He couldn't wait to eat this and wanted to try to make it last as long as possible. He knew he had to be crafty or he'd lose it to someone else. He opened the plastic bag and pulled out two slices. He forced himself to eat them slowly, to savor every bite, to appreciate the gift he had been given. He had two more slices by the time the train hit its last stop and had to force himself to stop eating. It was the best bread he ever tasted. He would be okay saving up all his money to just buy a loaf of bread and eat it until it ran out.

The girl was so kind to have given her bread to him. It may not have meant anything to her, but it meant a lot to him. It wasn't going to give him a roof over his head, or new clothes, or bring back his family, but sometimes what they say is true. Sometimes the best gifts are the smallest ones.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed my take on strangers' lives. :)