The Man with a Sign

When I pulled my van up to the stop light there was a man standing on the median, holding a sign that said, "Hungry." He looked like he was in his mid to late forties; an impassive gaze and tensely held shoulders a thin shield from the embarrassment of standing in traffic, begging.

There was a car in front of me and a car behind me. I watched the man. I don't usually pass money through my car window. I hummed under my breath and waited for the light to change. He limped forward slowly, without changing expression, darting looks at the car behind me. When I peered into my side view mirror I saw that a hand had popped out of the driver's window of the car behind me. The man with the sign that said "Hungry" shuffled forward a few steps and then stopped. Was it a false alarm? Or did the man behind us have money held out for him?

It was a false alarm.

It was a casual gesture with unfortunate timing; the man in the car behind me letting his wrist dangle on the window opening. The man with the sign lingered now, staring toward nothing in the same way. Maybe turning around and walking back to his first spot would betray too much. He was right beside my van.

My stomach twisted and I dug in my pouch for money. He was so close to me, trying not to look like he had assumed anything at all. I fruitlessly searched for a bill or two and then the light changed and the relaxed man in the car behind me became unrelaxed and started honking and I needed to drive off and the man with the sign stood there still when I looked back at him in my mirror.