Only a Man
At first glance she looked like any other old woman. Plodding along in the snow, alone, neglected, head bowed. People passing on the busy city sidewalk averted their eyes, lest she remind them that pain and suffering did not stop to celebrate Christmas.
A young couple, smiling, talking, laughing, arms loaded with Christmas presents, took no notice of the old woman. A mother with two small children hurried by, on their way to grandmother’s house. They took no notice. If these people had noticed, they would have seen that the old woman wore no shoes. She walked barefoot in the ice and snow.
With both hands the old woman gathered her worn button-less overcoat at the collar to keep out the wind. She stopped and stood bent and bowed at the bus stop. A red and blue scarf covering her head, she waited for the downtown bus.
A gentleman carrying an important looking briefcase waited near her, not too closely. After all, she could have something contagious. A teenage girl also waited for the bus. She glanced repeatedly at the old woman’s feet, but said nothing.
The bus arrived and the old woman slowly, painfully boarded. She sat on the side-ways seat just behind the driver. The gentleman and the teenage girl hurried to the rear.
A little boy pointed at the old woman.“Look, Mother, that old lady is barefoot.”The embarrassed mother slapped his hand down. “Don’t point at people, Andrew. It’s not polite to point.” She looked out the window.
“She must have grown children,” a lady in a fur coat suggested. “Her children
should be ashamed of themselves.” She felt morally superior, because she took good care of her mother.
A teacher seated near the middle of the bus steadied the bag of gifts on her lap. “Don’t we pay enough taxes to handle situations like this?” she said to a friend seated beside her.
“People have to learn to save their money,” a well-dressed young college man added. “If that old woman had saved when she was young, she wouldn’t be suffering now. It’s her own fault.”
And all these people beamed with satisfaction that their acumen had delivered such trenchant analysis.
But, a kind businessman felt offended by this murmuring detachment of his fellow citizens. He reached into his wallet and took out a crisp twenty-dollar bill. He strode proudly down the aisle and pressed the bill into the old woman’s unsteady, wrinkled hand. “Here, Madam, get yourself some shoes.” The old woman nodded her head in thanks. The businessman strode back to his seat, feeling pleased with himself, that he was a man of action.
At the next stop, a young man boarded the bus. He wore a heavy blue jacket, a maroon scarf around his neck, and a gray woolen cap pulled down over is ears. A wire running under the cap and into his ear was connected to a Walkman. The young man jiggled his body in time to music only he heard. He paid his fare and plopped down on the sideways seat directly across from the old woman.
As the young man’s glance caught the old woman’s bare feet, his jiggling stopped. He froze. His eyes went from her feet to his. He wore his expensive, new,
brand-name sneakers. The young man bent down and began to untie his sneakers. He removed his impressive new sneakers. He removed his socks. He knelt down before the old woman.“Mother,” he said, “I see you have no shoes. Well, I have shoes.” Carefully, gently, he lifted the old woman’s crusty feet in his hands. He placed his socks and his fine sneakers on the old woman’s feet. The old woman nodded in thanks.
Just then the bus arrived at the nest stop. The young man left the bus and walked away, barefoot in the snow.
The passengers crowded at the windows to watch him as he plodded barefoot through the snow. “Who is he?” one asked. “He must be a prophet,” said another. “He must be a saint,” someone suggested. “He must be an angel,” said yet another. But the little boy who had pointed, said, “No, Mother, I saw him clearly. He was only a man.”