The Value of Change
“Youngin!” I heard a voice call out to me.
“Hey, youngin!” he called out again, in a raspy voice.
I decided to turn around. The man was a tad taller than me, with a lanky frame.
His eyes were dark brown and wide open, like a lemur who’s been surprised. His cheekbones were strong and sharp, the dawning sun casting shadows, causing them to stand out even more.
Normally, my awareness would go up when approached by a random man. Let’s just say I’ve had my fair share of moments growing up where being called out didn’t start or end well.
I had just seen him asking for change from a man pulling out of the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, in a yellow BMW. He called out to me while my friends and I were about to walk inside. My friends acted as if they didn’t hear him and calmly proceeded to enter. A breezy winter afternoon around 5:30pm; mid-January and it was already getting dark. It wasn’t too cold, but the blood rushed to my fingers, and the wind chill could be felt through my pullover hoodie.
I never got the guy’s name, he had on all black boots, denim jeans, a black hoodie, and a Chicago Bulls fitted cap.
I could tell he’d been outside for a while, maybe a half hour or so, the spaces in between his thumb and index fingers dried up, the skin beginning to crack. He had a dark chocolate complexion that made it more visible.
Nothing about him made me think he was homeless.
I would have known; I see them almost everyday, usually the same ones. They often had a pungent smell of the city streets, leaving their worn and battered clothes with an aroma I can only compare to morning breath. Hygiene was not a priority; nor was appearance, only signifying the sense of struggle they were in. This man smelled of fresh linen and rosemary, his teeth shone like new piano keys, and there was a sense of awareness that made me feel more open to his approach.
He had been asking the man in the yellow beamer for 50 cents. The beamer was a dark mustard yellow with black rims, I thought to myself
“Why disrupt the elegance of an already beautiful car with such an awful color?”
While I walked past, I saw them talking.
The man in the car did not roll his window down all the way; about three inches at most. He was also a fairer skinned male; all I could see was the top of his burgundy tie and the navy blue button up he had on. He grinned at the man as if to say, “What, do I look like I’d be giving you 50 cents?”
He could have been a teacher, doctor, lawyer, or maybe even a Dunkin’ Donuts manager, who knew?
What I did know was he didn’t give him 50 cents.
At first I wasn’t going to answer to “youngin,” but I had been pretty mindful of the fact that I shaved that morning. How could I blame him? I’m always told I look younger than I am.
“Hey, man, I just wanted to ask you if you had 50 cents I could borrow?” he asked.
My biggest issue with giving change was that I always had to pull my wallet out. I never kept loose money in my pockets. It could be any amount of change; and there it was making my wallet big and lumpy. I know I said I wouldn’t mention a previous time like this, but at this point it’s all I thought about.
It was the middle of July and the humidity in the air made the surface of my skin stick like a slug. I was walking a female friend of mine, Anna, home late at night. She was making fun of how I was walking to prevent my shorts from sticking to my legs.
“You look like a lost penguin.”
“At least I don’t have webbed feet and a beak,” I teased
“Well you smell li-” she paused as a man approached us who had been sitting on a ledge by a house off to the right.
“You got two dollars?” he asked me.
“No I don’t,” I replied.
He walked past her, directly to me, so I signaled for her to keep walking.
I was only a freshman in high school at the time, and all I had on me was my phone. He was a dark heavy- set male with alcohol fresh on his breath. After I told him I didn’t, he continued to insist on asking.
“Do you have two dollars I can borrow?”
“No I don’t have anything.”
He heavily inhaled before speaking in this low-pitch monotone voice, exhaling afterward, while he proceeded to put his right hand on my left shoulder. We never stopped making eye contact. A man standing at about 6 ft with a stare that pierced the soul, one I could feel and only felt before from the eyes of men who have taken lives.
His grip tightened, as if to intimidate me.
The street light highlighted the sweat that slowly dripped off of each fold on his forehead, sliding into each crevasse and out again. A dim, unsettling orange masked the area around us, the closed convenience store “open” sign to our right flickered on and off and it hummed at each light; not a soul in sight. The sound of each breath followed by an unsettling silence. Heart pacing, as we glared at one another, refusing to show him the fear I felt.
“I really need this two dollars. I’m gonna die tonight and I don’t care about anything. I’ma have to take you with me,” he said while pointing at the sky with his right hand then placing it back on his waist.
He pulled up his shirt revealing the handle of a gun. A quick glimpse caught my eye as the silver lining of the polished handle had cast my reflection, partially seen from my peripheral. I thought to myself, All this for two dollars?
I don’t know why but I stayed calm, looking at him and his right shoulder for any movement.
“I’m gonna die and I don’t care what I have to do.”
“I ain’t got nothing man, only my phone,” I replied.
He looked annoyed, sucking his teeth as he shook his head. Out of the blue almost spontaneously he started ranting about how he had someone looking for him and how he needed the money he owed them, that he’d be dead if he didn’t. Completely lost but less afraid than I had been previously, the weight on my shoulder seemed to get lighter.
“I’m gonna die tonight and there’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry I’d…” And then his hands came together as if he were praying.
“Doing this isn’t going to help you; I’d have given you the money if I had it.” I cautiously replied.
Anna had continued walking and was waiting for me at the next block. She didn’t have a phone, but luckily I continued calmly talking to the guy and got out of what could have been a situation where I’d lost my life.
I’ll never know why, but when he finally let me go, I asked what his name was.
“They call me beef.”
I wanted to laugh, but I knew that’d be a horrible decision , so I kept it in my head.
The irony of it all was that a few months later I’d run into him again. I used to smoke Marijuana in high school, and being that I was underage, no store vendor wanted to sell me a Dutch Master.
I tried about 5 stores with no luck. I walked out of the last liquor store I knew I could’ve gotten one, about ten feet from where the incident happened. A heavy set man walked up to me and said,“They ain’t sell you a Dutch?”
“Nah man this some Bullshit.” I replied, annoyed.
“I got you.” I gave him the money and he went in and bought it for me.
“That’s some shit man, it’s just a Dutch,” he said while coming out.
After handing it to me he told me something that made me freeze in place.
“My Names Beef,” he said.
My eyes widened as he continued to tell me where he lived; told me if I ever needed some bud I could go to him. I was too shocked to pay attention to the address and just thanked him and left.
He spoke to me as if I’d never met him before.
How ironic, he once was shaking me down for 2 dollars and now, here he was helping me get what I wanted. The universe was telling me something; and I didn’t realize it at that moment.
This was different, this man wasn’t drunk, or trying to intimidate me. He had told me he needed it for his bus ride home and that he had been asking people for over and hour. I didn’t feel the same alertness as the time prior, so I pulled out my wallet containing only a dollar fifty. I never carried around more then twenty or forty.
I handed him the two quarters.
“That guy was cheap.” he was talking about the guy in the car, while looking back at the spot, squinting his eyes and gritting his teeth.
“Don’t worry about him, man,” I said, hoping he’d understand not to hold a grudge, that there was no obligation for anyone to help him.
He opened his hand and began counting his total. He had mostly dimes.
“Thank you,” he replied, with an expression of relief. His face relaxed and his eyes opened.
“No problem, least I could do,” I said.
“I like that, that’s being a good Samaritan. God is going to bless you. I like your respect,” he’d said shortly after.
“You too, stay blessed,” I said.
He stood beside me, to my left, and gave me a quick embrace right below my shoulder with both arms. Then he started quickly walking toward the bus stop, thanking me as he did so.
I went inside and my friends asked me what he wanted.
“Just some change to catch the bus,” I said. My one friend Joseph chuckled.
“He’s a grown ass man asking you for change?” he asked.
I ignored the comment and just chuckled to myself.
Usually when giving a man change with malicious intent, or for their cost of living, they’d stay in the same spot asking each person passing by for what I had already given them, zombies with an everlasting hunger for brains.
His immediate departure assured me that he just wanted to get home.
I was glad I caught him when I did. He was so fed up and frustrated, as if he’d been denied a 100 times. Even the strongest minds can fall a victim to denial.
Yea, maybe he used it for his daily uplift, a cigarette, drugs, or whatever it might have been; either way I feel as if I prevented him from going to an extreme.
I imagined myself in his position, how low I’d feel being a grown man asking for change, that I should have had myself.
The idea in and of itself helped me realize that a person in that position could cause major harm, not only to others, but to themselves as well.
I honestly just hoped he’d make it home.
Everything we share with others holds value; some take it for granted, while others appreciate it.
I believe that if we give value that essence is taken with it. I never give out of pity; I only give out of love for humanity.
This man was told no maybe a hundred times, others thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, or just once even. We all have our limits; all I can do is remind people the value of change.
Domingo J. Carrion born in Fajardo Puerto Rico and raised in the NJ & NY area. Portrays himself as an old soul with the imagination of a child, believing thay we can have everything in this world and still have nothing. He gets inspiration from friends, family, and acquaintances, both good and bad. His goal is to travel and become a journalist, with the intent to learn and understand that which makes us who we are. He writes short stories & poems.
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