Kindness Is Free


At 7:45 a.m. every morning she leaves her apartment building. It’s twenty floors of stairs to the bottom. She pushes open the same stale white door and everyday it squeaks on its rusty hinges. She takes the same route to her office. Crosses the same streets, passes the same hole in the wall coffee shop. And everyday she sees the same man on the sidewalk. Sitting there in his disheveled cardboard shelter, waiting for someone to drop a penny in his cup. His ratty beard grows longer by the month and his face gets dirtier by the day. He smiles at her like he always does. But she continues past him like she has every day before.

She gets to her office and takes the elevator to the 7th floor. She goes about her day; taking calls, writing emails, attending meetings. She gets lunch on 75th street and orders the chicken salad like she always does. Then when the clock strikes 5:00, she heads home. Just like everyday before, the man is still in the same spot on the sidewalk. She looks at him and he smiles, but she keeps on walking.

She takes the stairs to her apartment and plops her bag down on the chair by the door. Her feet glide across the floor, tired and weak from all the walking. Her hands float to the refrigerator door and open it, revealing a brand new bottle of Pinot Noir. The cork pops off and the smooth liquid drips into her glass. She falls asleep not long after her third glass and night soon turns into morning again.

It’s been three years since she moved to the city, and three years that she has seen the man on the sidewalk everyday. For three years she has watched him rot away, and for three years he has not moved. Today she wakes up and walks out her door just like all the days before. She passes the coffee shop and crosses the same streets. And when she reaches the spot where the man has always sat, he is not there. She scans the street for someone who might know where he went. But no one seems to notice her confusion or concern. She will be late for work if she does not keep going. So she does.

All day the man is on her mind. She ignores all her calls, cancels all her meetings and she can’t bring herself to eat one bite of her chicken salad. Finally the clock hits 5 and she pulls herself out of her chair and presses the DOWN button on the elevator. On the way home she noticed that the man has still not returned. She slumps the rest of the way home and skips the wine and hops right into bed. So many thoughts swirl in her mind. Where the man could have went, if he was all right, if something terrible had happened. She barely slept and the next morning she readied for the day faster than she ever has. She powerwalked past the hole in the wall coffee shop, ran across the same streets and finally reached the sidewalk where the man sat. And there he was. She breathed heavy as the man smiled at her like he had every day prior.

“Excuse me?” she huffed, “Can I buy you coffee and some breakfast?”

“Why, that’s the nicest thing anyone has asked me in a while,” the man answered.

He slowly got up from his spot and they walked to the diner down the street. And everyday after that, she didn’t watch the man sit there on the sidewalk. He didn’t smile at her as she ignored him and continued on her way. Instead, they walked to that diner and had breakfast together.



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