On the third day I decided to stop.
Sprawled on the gravel near the dumpster behind the convenience store, sitting out in front of my motel, was a man who certainly conveyed that he had lots of time on his hands and not too many places to go. I guess that’s a quaint way of saying–homeless.
I passed by him in my van the first two days, waving and smiling. On my first passage, he seemed a bit bewildered by my friendliness but on the second day he returned my greeting with the vigor of a long-lost friend watching his confidante fly off to Siberia on a secret mission.
But on the third day I decided to stop. I rolled up, eased my window down and said, “How ya’ doin’?”
Stumbling to his feet, staring into the distance and refusing eye contact, he replied, “Zeus has given me the light.”
The question obviously baffled him so he continued his runaway train of thought. “Mercury gave me wings,” he proclaimed, still staring off into the distance.
It seemed we were going to run the entire roster of Hellenistic deities.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
There was a long pause. I decided not to repeat my question. I felt it would seem as if I were insensitive or impertinent. I just waited. At length, he responded.
“Terkel. T-e-r-k-e-l.” Each letter grew in pitch of volume and intensity.
“I would have guessed Brian or Kenneth based on your age,” I replied.
For the first time the trance was broken and he glanced at me with a crinkled brow. Noting his coherency, I asked, “So what are you doing out here behind the convenience store?”
He yelled, ‘The policeman said I could be here as long as I didn’t lean against the building and sat on the gravel. It’s public property.”
I obviously had struck a nerve.
“You misunderstood my question,” I explained. “What I’m asking you is, what’s your story?”
“Zeus gave me…” he began.
I interrupted. “Listen, Terkel. I don’t know whether you believe in Zeus or not, but let’s just pretend for a second that you don’t. If you’d like me to stop bothering you, I get it. But really, it’s quite simple. I have passed by you for two days and waved, and I thought i would stop this time–just to see if there was anything human that could happen between us.”
This time he paused, recollecting human manners. “Do you have any money?” he asked.
“You know I do,” I replied. “You see, they don’t let you leave the back end of the convenience store and roam around if you don’t have it.”
I think he smiled, which led me to believe there was a little bit more inside of him than just a supernal messenger from Zeus.
“Do you have any money you can give me?” he asked more pointedly.
I reached for my wallet, pulled out two one dollar bills, and as I was beginning to hand them to him he added, eyeing the cash, “Breakfast tacos are three dollars.”
“You mean Zeus left you out here without breakfast?” I probed with a smile.
He smiled back, as if mirroring my image. I reached into my wallet and added an additional one to my offering. “Breakfast tacos it is, then.”
He took the money and inquired, “What’s your name?”
“This is gonna be weird,” I said. “My name is also Terkel. T-e-r-k-e-l.” I mimicked his previous bravado.
He chuckled in spite of himself. “You’re not Terkel,” he said.
“Neither are you.”
He chuckled again.
“You see, this wasn’t so bad. We talked for a minute, we got past the lineage of the Greek gods and you ended up with money for breakfast tacos.”
I reached down to close my window, finishing up the conversation. He stepped forward, and for the first time, looked me in the eyes.
“Thank you, Terkel,” he said. Then he stepped back and stared in the distance as if perched on the deck of the Santa Maria, peering for the north star. He mumbled something about Zeuss and collapsed onto the gravel in a giant heap.
I drove away. I do not know if I did a good thing or a bad thing. Such determinations, in my mind, are deliberated by foolish souls who pursue levels of divinity instead of acquiring the true depths of their humanity.
What I did was something different. And without difference, we are stuck with what and who we are … believing that nothing can change.
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