I was walking back from work recently when I met a homeless man on the street. Days are starting to get longer here and he was certainly making the most of it. He sat on the footpath of the busiest place in town, Princes Street, and he stared obliviously at the castle fading away as the sun set behind it. At first this man didn’t catch my attention. He was one of the many homeless people you walk past everyday. And then…
Then this man rumaged into his rucksack. That’s what caught my attention. He furiously looked for something. I was still at a distance, walking towards him and this sudden disturbance made me cautious. As his attempt to find something seemed to fail, he emptied his rucksack on the floor. Many things fell out. Some clothes, some money, a DSLR camera, packets of cigarette and other things I couldn’t quite see. The camera caught my attention. Was he a thief? I wondered. I didn’t stop walking. Whatever was going on, it was none of my business. I ignored him.
By the time I reached the small little square piece of land he had chosen to sit on, I saw the card board sign he had put up. And he had a small sketch book in his hand and some pencils. The sketch book was no more than the size of a pocket diary. I glanced at the sign… “Homeless by Choice, Do NOT Donate!”
I stopped walking. He sketched away, not really aware of how surprised people were by his sign. I turned around. I didn’t mean to disturb him but I was still curious about such a choice. I was curious about what this person was upto. I stood at a distance, staring at what he stared, trying to peek into his sketchbook. And when he finally finished sketching, I walked up to him, extremely nervous and fidgety. I don’t know why I chose to speak to him but I had to. I was curious about his life, curious about his choice, curious about this whole situation.
“Hi!” I said.
“Oh, I don’t need money, thanks.” – like an automated reply. He still didn’t look up. He was flicking through the pages of his sketch book. Some amazing miniature sketches!!!
“I didn’t mean to offer money, I read your sign.”
Now he looked up.
“Hello then.” He said with a smile.
“I saw you sketching. And I was rude to peek into your sketchbook as you flicked the pages. I’m sorry about that. But you are a wonderful artist.” I said rather nervously.
“Thank you. It is a lovely sight. I had to capture it.”
“Why are you homeless by choice?” I blurted out. And then I realized how ridiculously I had behaved.
“I am so sorry. I should be on my way.” I covered up fo rmy mistake, or tried to, and started walking away.
“Hey that’s absolutely fine, don’t worry.”
“Would you like to see my sketches?”
“That would be lovely.” I sat down next to him.
He had some spectacular sketckes in that little book. What was such a fine artist doing on the streets, I wondered!
“I don’t have a family and I love traveling. I can’t afford to travel to different countries or whatever because I don’t make much money from this you see. So I chose the other possible option. traveling by foot. Wherever. Whenever.” He blurted out.
“That’s….” I struggled to get the words out.
“It’s a wonderful choice you’ve made. And I am very glad I decided to stop and say hi.”
“I am glad you stopped by too. It’s not common that people talk to a homeless man.”
“I’m sorry about that. If I bump into you again, we can have a longer conversation. But I’m afraid I’ll have to leave now.”
“I’d be surprised if we bump into each other again…I’m spending the night here but will travel tomorrow. And I hope it will take me to more wonderful places.”
He had no regret about his life, or at least didn’t show it if he did have any. And he was content. And that is such a rare thing these days. He was living the life he had chosen, and was completely happy about his choice.
This happened a while ago and I am certain that the conversation I have written here is not exact but everything was something to the effect of these lines. And that, my friends, was a very very enriching experience in my life…
Sometimes, choices are unconventional…but if they make us happy, I suppose we must make them anyway 🙂