Man with Four Fingers
My friend Danny and I stepped into the Streetsville Burrito Boyz on a warm end of summer night. I ordered my usual steak with three lines of hot sauce and wondered why I was so stupid. My tongue built up a tolerance to the spice, but I felt the lining in my stomach slowly erode over the years.
I paid the cashier and bought my steak burrito. Danny and I looked for a place to sit, but the restaurant was small and held very little eating room save for a short table and stools across the front and two picnic tables outside, and they were always in use.
Unable to find a place to sit, we trekked to the nearest Tim Horton’s a few blocks down.
We walked into the Tim Horton’s. I held my plastic bag that carried my burrito to my side away from the Tim Horton’s counter and snuck off into the corner of the coffee shop facing Queen Street. I set my burrito down on the small table and spotted Danny at the counter buying a coffee. Across from me sat two men at two separate tables. One sat closest to the counter and stared with severe eyes at the other who rested in front of the window with his heavy stare set in one spot as if gazing into the heart of eternity.
The man closest to the counter had black wild bushy hair and a pencil thin moustache. On his face sat a pair of black glasses with tiny oval lenses that framed his small, wide open eyes, much like how I figured a serial killer would look. His clothes were dirty and ragged, like the man who sat a table across from him.
The other man had a hard stubbled face and soft stare, a close-mouthed gaze of a heart lost in space and time as victim to an unforgiving world that never knew his name or gave him reason not to close his eyes and slip into the cold dark shadow of eternity. I looked down from the man’s face to his hands. He had a thumb and a pinky on each. Nothing in between.
He clasped at his cup of coffee with the digits on either side of his right hand and took a slow, quiet sip, hidden in a corner between the glass behind him and a short wall that separated him from the other side of the coffee shop. Maybe he wanted to be hidden.
The man in the glasses stared at him with a quiet glare.
Danny came back with two small Tim Horton’s cups, one steaming and the other full of ice water. I took the ice water and he sat across from me. I grabbed my burrito out from the plastic bag.
Danny and I met at our church’s Homeless Outreach service after he was kicked out of his last service for not listening to direction.
“So you like the service?” I asked.
“Yeah I do,” he said. “It’s a lot like the other service I left but with less rules. I was sick of those rules. I came to talk to people, not learn from a handbook.”
“I hear you.”
“These people just need attention. They need to feel like someone cares for them.”
“They do,” I said and bit into my burrito. Danny talked, but my attention was split between him and the two men that sat behind him. I noticed the man with strange hands move his heavy stare from an empty spot towards our table and back repeatedly as Danny spoke.
“Beautiful night tonight eh?” the shifty eyed vagrant said facing the man lost in eternity.
“Yes,” the man with strange hands hushed.
“It’s gonna be even warmer tomorrow. It’s a little chilly tonight, just a bit. But tomorrow will be warmer.” The man spoke with a gentleness that betrayed his vicious eyes.
“It might be.”
“It’s cool out there tonight,” the man with small eyes said. “You need a jacket.”
“You can borrow my jacket. It’s not much but it works just fine.”
The man with strange hands never once looked into the intense eyes of the other. He spoke sparse words between quiet sighs and time lost in a heavy stare and nodded here and again.
“I want you to know,” the small eyed man said. “I want you to know if I had a dollar, I’d give it to you.”
Those words. There was something about those words that slowed my breath and caught my shallow heart. If I had a dollar, I’d give it to you.
I attended and served and led Homeless Outreach every week for over a year at that point. I bought the sandwich materials, helped to make the sandwiches, wrote and presented a lesson to the youth that attended, drove the van full of youth downtown, paid for the gas for the van, ensured the safety of the youth on the streets when situations got tense (and they often did), but nothing I did could compare to that man’s words.
As a single twenty-five year old male with very little overhead, I gave from my abundance. This man was willing to give from his lack. If he could, he would give the other everything he had, including what he didn’t.
I motioned my stare from the man with angry eyes to the other and down to his disfigured hands he held above the table, his thumbs clasping and releasing and twiddling each other. He knew he was different.
I looked down at my own hands, pink and white and calloused. My palms cut through by lifelines that only ran so deep and intersected at a crossroads. These hands that worked and fought and gestured and rested. These hands that held the world between its palms, normal, like everyone else.
Except the man in front of me.
These hands that took more than they ever gave. All five fingers intact. Almost perfect in every way, and yet they weren’t.