Driving down 5th is the only way to get to the freeway from my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house. I usually catch a red light on the corner as I approach the freeway entrance. Sometimes there’s someone waiting there—sometimes a couple people huddled together. They’ve made a makeshift cove under some trees, right along a fence that separates them from the small slope leading down to I-5. A wheelchair, blue tarp and some plastic bags serve as fixtures in their small space.
It was pretty late this particular evening. Close to 11pm. I didn’t expect anyone would be waiting on the corner with a sign, though as I approached the intersection, I quickly tried to recall what I had in my car that I might offer, just in case someone was there. Did I have any food? Spare change? (I never keep cash on me so that was unlikely) What could I share in case someone was there?
I hit a red light. A man was standing there with a black wheeled suitcase as if he was heading somewhere. He smiled as I rolled down my window.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied, still more enthusiastic than I would have been standing in this 30 degree weather.
I put the car in park and went to the back seat. I had been carrying around a Christmas gift from our pastor—a tub of trail mix that my roommate and I were to share.
“Here you go,” I said. “I’m sorry that’s all I have.”
He thanked me and extended his hand. “My name is Reno.”
“I’m Sophia. It’s nice to meet you, Reno.” As I shook his hand, it was warm. Soft, even. I’m not sure what I expected to feel, but I wondered how he stayed so warm on nights like this.
The light was still red. I wanted to do more. I reached in my change drawer and found a crumpled up dollar bill. “This is all I have on me,” I said apologetically as I handed him the bill.
Reno smiled. He always smiled. “Aw, thank you so much. You know what I’m going to do with this dollar?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I’m going to dry my blanket,” he said.
“You need another blanket?” I asked, thinking about the sleeping back I’d been carrying around in my trunk.
I can’t remember if I waited for Reno to reply. I popped the trunk and ran to the back, hoping the light wouldn’t turn.
“You can have this,” I said, handing him the sleeping bag. “You take care of yourself, Reno.”
I got back in my car just as the light turned green. I drove off and tried to watch him from my rearview mirror, wondering when I’d see him next.
This was later published in the Burnside Writer’s Collective on June 29, 2011.