Sunday, June 20, 2010


I've watched him trudge slowly down Fulton Ave many times. His back is bowed and his frail shoulders give sharp corners to a dirty blue and white wool sweater. Cigarette in hand, he takes small steps in those tattered leather loafers that, I'm sure, he was once proud of. His hair is neatly combed, except for the few strands on the left that refuse to stay down. I think he's grown to accept the rebellious wisps of greyness.

His name is Jim, and he likes his coffee black...but sweet. On days too hot for coffee, he preferes orange juice, but only when it's freshly squeezed. He likes the pulp.

Jim and I have become friends since January, when he first arrived on Fulton Ave. I don't know where he's from or what his story is, but he is a sweet old man with seemingly nowhere to go. Whenever he comes into my store, people silently shy away from him; unsure what to say or where to look. He's small and bent. His sweater is dirty and his hair shiny with oil. He smells.

He walks in and orders his coffee, and I wait patiently as he counts his change in nickles. It takes a lot of nickles to buy a cup of coffee. I'm the only one at Jamba who makes his coffee just the way he likes it, and his eyes light up whenever I'm there to brew it for him. We talk as I pour it steaming into his cup, and as he tells me about his day I hand him his four packets of raw brown sugar. He loves his coffee sweet. My coworkers don't know why I indulge him, but I often give him extra sugar. That way, when I'm not there, he won't be too embarassed to ask for more.

I love to watch Jim as he sits in his lonely corner, hidden beneath that dirty old sweater, sipping his coffee. What is his story? Why did he suddenly appear in Sacramento? Why Fulton Ave? Why my Jamba? Where are his children and why is he all alone? Where does he sleep at night? I don't want to ask him any of these questions - the man has a quiet sense of dignity about him that commands a level of silent respect. He hasn't had a shower in days, of that I'm sure, and you can always smell Jim long after he's gone. I can sense the story within him, whatever it is, is powerful. I wish I knew it.

My last day at Jamba is next Tuesday and I'm going to miss Jim. I'm going to miss watching him trudge through our door. I'm going to miss making him his coffee while he smiles and his eyes sparkle; it's not often he gets served. His pocket is begining to bulge with my extra rations of raw brown sugar, and he pats it quietly so I know he's prepared. I'm worried about Jim. I'm worried no-one will care about him, that my coworkers won't respect him the same when I'm not there. I wonder where he goes when he shuffles out our door, the smell of dirt and sweat and cigarette and skin trailing behind him.

He has the dirtiest hands, but when I shake them and look into his soft, old eyes, I catch a glimpse of the young man he once was. The story within him wants to reveal itself, struggles to find the right words...but then a young woman in heels, rushing to work, bumps him as she snatches her smoothie and turns to go. His eyes fall silent once again, and I hold his hand, telling him "sorry" with my eyes. Not today, maybe next time.

My last day at Jamba is next Tuesday. I'm going to miss Jim.

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