They walk among us, but do we see them? No—nobody would imagine that the man in the café playing a classical guitar version of the Bach chaconne would imagine that the guitar is virtually the only thing he own. The rest? Well, he was carrying that in the bag that squash players use to carry their rackets and their change of gym clothes.
Well, he stopped carrying that around a few days ago. He had found, you see, temporary shelter at the Salvation Army, since for the last nine months he has been homeless. Some of that time he was up in the mountains, staying with friends. But there’s a problem: he has, very likely Asperger’s—or so it seems to me—and it’s hard to imagine he has many friends.
“It’s been the best thing for me,” he told me. “They gave me a room, and they told me how to get a free cell phone, which they call the Obamaphone. And I had to go to the police station for a certificate of good conduct, as well as several other agencies. They even drove me to one agency, since there was no bus service at that way. They only thing is that I can’t play my guitar at night, since I have to be in the shelter by a specific time….”
He’s not the only homeless one in the café: there’s Norman, who makes his presence known even before you walk into the café. Why? Because if you see a white Styrofoam cooler attached to some red wheels, you know that Norman is in the house. So Norman has his little business as well: he sells bottles of “the coldest water in the Caribbean,” on the corner of the street where I live.
Of course, I see homeless people in other places, as well. When I go to the beach, I very frequently see a man soaping up the jeans that he is wearing. Makes sense—doesn’t it? How else is he supposed to get them clean? The, the jean still dripping, he moves away, sits on the rock, and shaves while looking out at the sea.
There is the old lady who dives in dumpsters, especially outside Subway—that half-eaten sandwich must be a godsend. And then, of course, there’s the street porter—who makes what living he can by “helping” park cars. Oh, and then protecting the cars, since anything could happen, right? Oh, and you don’t want that to happen, do you? Do you?
Of course, there are the panhandlers, one of who passed me with his cardboard sign, “tengo cancel!” Which would be more help: giving him my spare change, or teaching how to spell “cancer?”
For those panhandlers who have a drug habit, it’s not uncommon for them to exhibit was are the nastiest, most suppurating wounds I have ever seen in my life. I look away, and try not to imagine the real horror: many of these people have veins so bad, after years of drug use, that they are injecting drugs into the exposed veins of those very wounds.
I wonder: what do the tourists think of us? Because on virtually every block, there is another maimed and discarded life presenting itself. Our island has many problems: superbly beautiful, it is also afflicted with trash at every glance. And what about the trees that are so desperately needed? So after we cleaned the island up, and then planted the trees, we could start in on work of watering and maintaining them.
The guitarist has finished his Bach, he is now playing one of De Falla’s pieces for guitar. He’d probably play for the hell of it, of course, but now I know: he’s playing as if his life depended on it.
And it does.
But should it?