Kindness overcame suspicion … I think

first_imgMy back was to him when I heard his first words: “Don’t be alarmed.” That, by itself, was alarming. He was a small man, thin, middle-age, wearing blue jeans too big for him, a pullover and, despite the warmth of the day, a windbreaker. And he looked scared, and embarrassed. He said his mother had told him to go find someone with a kind face who might help a stranger. Now, I figured, this is a liar. I am not a man panhandlers approach. I do not look like a container of the milk of human kindness. “Don’t be afraid,” he said in a gentle but agitated voice. “I have AIDS. I am a homosexual and I have AIDS, but you don’t have to be afraid of me. You can’t catch it by just talking with me.” “I was home alone,” he said. “And I started bleeding. I do have AIDS.” He pulled the neck of his shirt down to one side, baring his shoulder. There was a mean-looking rash disappearing over this shoulder and down his back. He made a sort of half-sob and said, “I started bleeding rectally again and I’m afraid I’ll bleed out. My mother said soak a towel in saline solution and tuck it down into my pants and go out quickly and find someone to help you.” He started to pull down his pants to show me the towel. I stopped him quickly. He said if I would print my name and phone number on his envelope, his mother would call me immediately and pay me back. She was on her way to help him now but she was in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 5 Freeway. He pulled out a prescription and said it was for a suppository that would stop the bleeding. I looked at the prescription. It even had a price on it – $36.40. So … there we were. I didn’t even know his name. He was a small, thin, cleanly dressed homosexual with AIDS who was also African-American and bleeding rectally in a Latino part of the Valley. “So you need $37,” I said. He nodded. We looked at each other. He blinked a few times. As I pulled out my wallet, I suddenly was aware of traffic on Victory Boulevard, as if all the cars had stopped while I thought. Now that I had made a commitment, I felt I was invested in his welfare and I should see it through. I offered him a ride to the pharmacy. Now as I opened the car door to let him in, I suddenly realized that a small, thin man – who was bleeding rectally – was about to sit down on the front seat of my almost-brand-new Prius. But there was a newspaper on the back seat and I shifted it to the front seat. He told me I needn’t worry, the towel in the seat of his pants would protect my car. I said I’d rather be sure. I dropped him off at the apartment of a friend of his who was in his AIDS support group. He had thanked me all the drive over, and I was glad to have him out of the car because even former Downeast men are embarrassed by overt gratitude. Then I began thinking. What if this was an elaborate scam? How many prescriptions have you seen with the cost written on them? Why did he have me drop him off at his friend’s apartment rather than take him to the pharmacy? I had the same thoughts in the quiet moment between his nodding and my reaching for my wallet. Then I thought, if you knew absolutely that he was telling the truth, would you give him $40? Yes. And except for asking him to pull down his pants and checking the towel, there was no way to know absolutely. And I wasn’t going to do that. He had had enough indignities. So he got the $40 and a ride and I got my doubts – his mother hasn’t called yet – but we both came away with our self-respect … I think. Michael Tetreault is the Daily News letters editor and sometimes-writer. E-mail him at m[email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! I … am not a pushover. I was raised in Downeast Maine at a time when suspicion and an exaggerated sense of privacy mingled to produce a people who are skeptics. I am not an easy mark, a patsy … I think. He came up behind me as I was standing in the doorway of my car outside Starbucks, putting the two cups of coffee into the cup holders. last_img

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