Chicken

It was a cold October night – Halloween to be exact – and I was at work.Over the summer and until November, I worked at Raley’s, a family-oriented grocery store where I would bag groceries and walk customers out to their cars.As unappealing as the job sounds, I loved it. I would meet the most fascinating, sweet people who would call me “honey” or “angel” or “dear” or any other term of endearment imaginable.I thought the world of most of our customers. They were gracious people, always surprised that I would be kind enough to be interested in their lives, impressed that I would help them load groceries into their cars. I always thought if they were so nice to me, they must be kind to everyone.Halloween was my last day at work. I was a little sad about leaving my colleagues, friends and favorite customers but I continued with business as usual.Outside, lying on the bench was an old, large black man, wrapped in a flannel blanket. As I would walk customers out to their cars, he’d call to them and ask for spare change.I recognized the homeless man. He had been outside all week, asking for food or money to no avail.My friend Sam came up to me after he purchased a candy bar from her at the register.“He smelled like urine,” she said, “and I saw him talking to himself. I think he is mental. It’s so sad.”Upon seeing the man, the kind customers that I knew would suddenly change. They would look around the parking lot, desperate to find something –anything – else to pay attention to.They couldn’t look at this poor homeless man. They would ignore his pleas and carry on a shallow conversation with me – usually involving the weather.I was disappointed, but I could not really say anything. It was none of my business whether they gave money or even acknowledged the man.I felt awful having to ignore him but our store was about customer service. But I did as I was told and paid attention to the customers who were ranting about their awful days at work.In my last hour at my job, a few of my co-workers gave me small presents. It was a sort of “goodbye-have-a-nice-life” kind of thing.I was happy that I meant something to them but I still felt horribly guilty for taking the presents. What did I really do to deserve them? I completed easy tasks with nice people and got paid for it.After work, I went outside to approach the homeless man.“What do you want to eat?” I asked, “Please, let me buy you something.”He looked up at me and smiled.“Do you got any chicken?”I went back inside the store to buy him some chicken and I began to ponder why I was even helping him.I don’t consider myself to be a particularly nice person. I enjoy cruel, blunt, humor; I do not go to church; I am definitely not a “hug person.”I was helping the man because no one else would. I thought about our “kind” customers. Why would no one else buy the man a chicken?Fear was a possible excuse. When I told my parents about my spurt of altruism, they were a little annoyed at my lack of concern for my own safety.However, more likely than fear was the social enigma surrounding most homeless people. They are either addicted to drugs or alcoholics. They are lazy people who choose to not work. They are filth, relying on the country’s Welfare programs to feed them.This drives me insane.Yes, I am sure that there are plenty of druggies and drunkards out on the streets, suckling off your bank accounts because it is just too hard to get a job.But there are also the mentally disabled. There are the people who cannot fend for themselves and are not fit to work. This man smelled like urine! Did people honestly think that he could walk into a job interview after spending three nights sleeping in the Raley’s parking lot?I bought a warm roasted chicken and a cold bottle Coke and walked outside. The man was still on the bench, wrapped in his flannel, waiting for his food.“Thank you so much, darlin’,” he gushed.I smiled at him and thought about his response. It was the most genuine thank-you I had received in four months.

Chicken

stephvatz

Granite Bay, United States

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