fiction

Two Degrees of Separation

homeless under blanketLooking through the big plate glass window of the coffee house, I was content to let my mind wander and enjoy the hot cup of coffee. I had a book with me but once I got settled into a comfy old leather chair I found that the world passing by on the busy street was more entertaining than fiction.

I could see straight across to the bench at the bus stop. It appeared as though there were piles of blankets left on the bench, but once the blankets began to move I realized that a homeless person was rousing himself. At first all I could see was a watch cap with scraggly long hair sticking out from the bottom, but when he turned toward the window, I could see his face homeless on benchwas extremely weathered by the elements and the ravages of time. He extracted some newspaper from under the blankets, most likely used for added insulation from the cold, and sat on top of the papers while he carefully folded up his blankets. The first one looked like an old wool surplus blanket, olive in color and ragged at the edges. The next blanket was more like a quilt; in fact I was almost positive it was one of those quilts that moving companies use to wrap around furniture. He put the blankets inside a large trash bag from which he pulled a smaller plastic grocery bag. He extracted a comb and removed his cap so that he could comb his thinning hair straight back and down on this neck. He gave special attention to the hair at the sides which he combed and pressed down with his bony fingers, homeless manand then put his cap back on his head.

I was so intent onwatching this ablution ritual that I did not realize that I was sitting forward in my chair with my face just inches from the plate glass window. However, when homeless man returned my stare I was quite startled. For some reason, I thought I was invisible and could watch him with impunity. Ironic, I thought that homeless people were invisible to those of us who chose not to see them, but at that moment, he knew that he was anything but invisible. I shrank back in the big chair hoping that I could hide in the shadows and glare of the glass, but homeless man was having none of it. He held his gaze on me as though we were locked in some weird staring contest.

It’s an amusing concept to think about the degrees of separation between any two humans, but at that moment, all that was between homeless man and me was a thin sheet of glass and that I had a roof over my head and he didn’t.  So maybe two degrees of separation isn’t that much of a disconnect after all.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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