In a train station in Brussels, close to midnight, upon returning from Paris. Waiting for the very last train to conclude the final leg of the journey home. On the phone with my love, talking of decompression after an eventful week. Talking of things to do together, once back home. Talking to kill the time.
An elderly, homeless man appears, interrupting the conversation, whispering something in a throaty voice. He repeats his query and, in desperation of my lack of understanding, gestures he would like a smoke – could I please spare a cigarette? I’m sorry, I say, I don’t smoke anymore. Gentle understanding on his face, and he continues his search, while I continue my conversation.
Alone on the platform, waiting still for the last train. Elderly Homeless Man reappears, painfully shuffling along the well polished marble platform. Smoking, a satisfied smile on his worn out face. Halfway he stops, looks around, changes course, heads for the trash cans in the middle of the platform. I feel both pity and disgust. And shame for my
disgust. And wonder on how things get to the point where trash cans become valued resources.
On reaching the trash cans thirty seconds later, Elderly Homeless Man tips the ashes of his cigarette neatly in the ash tray attached to the side of the cans and continues his slow and painful quest for the next smoke. A few meters along, he repeats his painful maneuver.
Upon returning from Paris, alone and waiting. And outclassed by Elderly Homeless Gentleman, through a single, honest gesture.