Shannon Bardwell: Down at the pokey

December 12, 2009 10:20:00 PM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


"Hey, you got a dollar for a hamburger?" It was about lunchtime, and I was exiting my car in front of the courthouse. I smiled and said, "Yeah," and reached back into my car at the coin keeper and gathered a handful of change. I had a hunch and intended to follow it. Now that I had his undivided attention I asked, "I think you know my husband." He looked puzzled. "Bardwell," I called out.  


"Oh yeah, at the post office; he took me to Hardees for breakfast." That''s him, I told the man. We were no longer strangers but acquaintances now. My hunch had been right though I had never seen the man. My husband, Sam, had encountered the beggar almost daily at the post office. Every time, he struggled with the desire to help but questioned whether or not he was really helping. Once, he initiated a direct conversation, "Do you really need help? Some people say that you don''t." The older man assured him he really needed help. 


"We talk about you often. How are you doing?" I continued. I wondered what his reaction would be if he knew that we thought of him as a person, a person with needs and desires and a life and maybe a family somewhere. Where did he live? Was panhandling his job? Were the clothes he was wearing his daily uniform? Who was this man? 


"Pretty good. How''s your arm after you broke it?" he questioned. His question took me by surprise. Now I was a real person, and we were talking like old friends. I had broken my arm six months before. He remembered an apparent conversation and asked about my arm. How could you remember something like that about a person you had never met? I wondered if the man studied people. I bet he did. I bet he knew exactly the nature of people by sight.  


I told him I was doing very well and thanked him for asking.  


"What is your name?" I knew this would be the next level of up-close-and-personal. I had read in a book that a street person never tells you their name; not even to another street person. If he is doing something wrong or afraid he''ll be reported he doesn''t want you to know his name. They usually have nicknames. 


"Hozzie," he called out. I repeated what I thought I heard and wondered how you spell that. "Yep, Hozzie," he said.  


"Well, it''s nice to meet you, Mr Hozzie." We nodded and we each moved on about our daily business. 


Recently I asked my husband if he had seen Hozzie lately. He said that he hadn''t; maybe because it was colder now and he had moved on. We wondered silently where Hozzie was and how he was doing. Then I found out. 


Hozzie was no longer at his day job. He had been arrested and was now in the pokey. I bet he gets three squares at day and a warm place to sleep and has plenty of friends around.  


However brief, I enjoyed my exchange with Hozzie. For just a moment we were friends exchanging concerns about our lives. He trusted me with his name. He asked about my arm. He remembered encounters with Sam and going to Hardees for breakfast.  


I think I got a lot for a dollar, and I hope that Hozzie finds that illusive hamburger.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.