You couldn’t tell if he was old because of years or wear. But either way he looked it. The scruff stubbling his face. The windburn, sunburned cheeks – no wonder he didn’t smile. If he had, his skin probably woulda cracked. His overstuffed bookbag. His ratty, too worn sneakers. Scruffy hands. Thin but not in the good way. Dark shades that put a haze between him and their stares and indifference.
So when she rolled down her windows to hand him a couple dollar bills, the smell wasn’t the first thing she noticed. It was his eyes as the sunglasses slid down his nose enough that she could see his pupils. The milky cloud that covered the secret color of his eyes. She wondered whether his eyes were brown or hazel or blue or green.
This was the seventh time she’d rolled her window down to hand him cash. Never much. Never enough. But something to let him know she saw him. Every time her arthritic knuckles uncurled from the few dollars she gave him, she searched his face trying to figure out how young or old he might be. They didn’t really speak. But what was there to say?
The eighth time she came upon him, it wasn’t him she saw first. Three police cars. An old, dingy Buick. A couple of men she’d never seen before. A woman with a long skinny cigarette hanging out of her mouth. And then some kind of religious person, she could tell, because of his black shirt and white collar.
The glint off the cuffs made her eyes wince. The light turned red and her eyes flicked to his shades. He was cuffed. What in the world? He was no harm to anyone, just standing there, day in and day out. Going who knows where at night. He didn’t really bother anyone. Unless you counted people feeling uncomfortable because they avoided making eye contact with him.
Something snapped in her. She eased onto the shoulder of the roa
d, making it to the small gathering of people, just barely hearing the priest say, “Officer, it’s fine. Really, I understand. He doesn’t have any business standing here and it’s not safe anyways.”
The plainly dressed man standing closest to him asked if he could hold the man’s sunglasses. She could see his hands lightly shaking. As the glasses came off and he turned, she saw that his eyes were brown. Ordinarily brown. It took a few minutes for the surprise to settle in.
She was seeing his eye color. How was that possible? He was definitely still the same scruffy, overexposed, too gaunt man she’d handed money to every day for a week. In almost the exact same moment, one of the officers mockingly said “See, he’s been playing us all this whole time. He’s not really blind! Put him in the car; I was willing to let this slide when I thought he couldn’t see. But to know he used that just to make people feel sorry for him. Get him out of here!”