A few days ago, I left work in the early evening and headed home by foot. It is about an hour walk for only about two miles through town. As I began my trek, tired, and anxious to get home to make dinner for the boys, I spotted a young man up ahead. I had seen him many times. An African American always dressed heavily, with a thick coat, beanie cap, long pants, always looking hot in the same outfit. He paces back and forth, or walks all over, seemingly aimlessly, often with his hands up to his ears, like he is trying to block out a cacophony of distant voices. Unrelenting voices. Painful voices. I had passed him many times before, always trying to get his attention with eye-contact, to no avail. He seems buried in his own World.
I saw him about fifty-yards up ahead and decided I would try to just hand him money as I passed him. Minimal interaction. Maybe it would work. I pulled into the Salvation Army to dig into my wallet in a more secure place, and ended up looking at the used book section. I figured out the money I needed to get the boys dinner and had a crisp ten-dollar bill left over. I tucked it into my shirt pocket for easy access. I was only in there for about five-minutes.
When I emerged from the store and went back out to the main street, I was saddened to see him way across the busy four lane street walking towards the harbor. The light was fading fast so I decided to carry on home. I lamented a missed opportunity.
I walked about another 100-yards and turned the corner towards Iwilei Street. I have walked this corridor many, many times. Often only to see human carnage. Bodies strewn about. Some seemingly lifeless. Others restless and wistful. Also strewn about as well, pieces of cardboard, clothing, trash, sometimes syringes and little plastic bags, and even human feces.
As I turned the corner, I could see a lone figure sitting against the back wall of the Salvation Army building. I couldn't make out the person very well as a railing was blocking my view. Each step closer, revealed more and more, until I came right upon the person. A young local Hawaiian Filipino looking man, maybe in his late twenties, ravaged by exposure to the harsh outdoor elements and looking much older. As I passed him, I strained to look at his face, to make eye-contact, to give a smile and a warm "Aloha..."
As I did pass him, I looked at his face. He was staring off towards the ocean and setting Sun. Frozen. His eyes were red and filled with tears which led to glistening trails down his red cheeks. The expression on his face, in my brief passing, was one of deep despair. I have seen fear. I have seen regret. I have seen anger. Sadness. Longing. I have never seen a face so hauntingly desperate. Just staring. Tear strewn. Anguish lines deeply carved into what should be a beautiful young forehead. Oblivious to my presence or passing.
I continued past him and turned the corner. As I headed up Iwilei Street, his face appeared in my mind again. Tears started to fall forth from my eyes. It was so haunting. Such sadness. Not a desperation of what tomorrow will bring because most houseless and homeless can't envision a tomorrow. Just a today. Hour by hour. It looked like a terrible traumatic memory. A horrible past. Mistakes. Horrible decisions. Nothing left to salvage.
Just then the wind from Nu'uanu picked up ten-fold and started blowing me backwards. I had to dig in my feet and lean forward to move ahead, step-by-step. Every time I pictured his seared face, more tears burst forth. I felt like the wind was commanding me to turn around and go back. As my mind raced trying to think about what I should do, in the impending darkness, my feet kept moving steadily towards home. My body wanted rest. Security. Home. Loved ones. It would mutiny my Heart in an instant. To survive.
Just then a young Asian woman approached me from the opposite direction, so I surreptitiously and hurriedly wiped my face and eyes of any trace of tears. I prepared to give her a warm reassuring smile but she kept her face towards the ground as we passed. The wind was helping to push her along, while it kept me struggling to move forward. As I hit the next intersection a block away, I stopped. I looked up at the Ko'olau mountains laid out in front of me. The canopy of clouds still tinged with the red of the setting Sun and impending Twilight.
My na'au, my visceral instincts, told me to turn around and go back. Without thinking or reasoning or rationalizing anything, I listened to my na'au. I turned around and started walking back with the wind pushing me along. Listen to my na'au. Something my Mother told me three months after her death through a beautiful gifted friend. I need to listen more to my na'au. Trust my instincts. I pictured his face again, tears welled up quickly, and I thought about people taking their lives when they descend into the bottomless pits of despair. I quickened my pace. I felt my Heart pounding.
I was actually catching up with the woman who had passed me, so I slowed down. I didn't want her to think that I turned around to follow her after I passed her in the impending darkness. I was a little concerned for her well-being headed into the area she was, so I stopped and just watched her until she entered a building and was out of sight.
I then headed back to where I saw the young man. For a moment, I thought about danger. Like someone with mental illness, who might attack me. I had a beautiful friend, a Samoan, six-foot-six tall behemoth young man, who was stabbed in the chest, in his Beautiful and Loving Heart, by a little diminutive punk outside of an adult book store. Dead. Just like that.
I could see shadowy figures emerging all over from cardboard forts, alleys, bushes, and all kinds of daytime hiding places. I thought to myself, what if that happens to me tonight. That is how I will die. Tonight. Laying in a pool of blood. Because I don't mind my own business. My family waiting for me at home. Wondering when and how they would get notified. I quickly pushed the grim thought out of my head and continued on.
As I turned the corner, I gaged the scene and situation. As I approached the man, I noticed he had a black plastic leg brace on his right leg, like a cast for a broken bone. I hadn't noticed it the first time I passed him. I only saw his face which had burnt into my psyche. I walked to the opposite side of him, in the direction he was staring. Still staring. Still his tear filled eyes glistening in the fading light. I squatted down next to him to put my head at his level. He looked down furtively at his feet.
I asked, "Are you okay?"
He quietly and softly said, "Yes..."
It was then that I noticed that he didn't only have a leg brace, but he was wearing a black chest brace with metal bars, keeping his spine and ribs stable. He looked like he was in pain as he sat there on the dirty sidewalk.
I asked again, "Are you sure you are okay?" He briefly looked up at me, red swollen eyes, and softly said, "Yes.."
We stayed there for a few quiet moments, in what felt like minutes. Just quietly in each other's presence. I then stuck out my hand and said, "My name is Kai."
He extended his hand slowly, grasped my outstretched hand, and shook it slowly. He then said his name. I couldn't hear it very well with the traffic zooming by so close and my hearing not being the best. I said, "I"m sorry, what was your name again?" He repeated it softly. I still didn't hear it very well. A little embarrassed, I asked him, "Can you spell it?" It had sounded like "Ayen" but I wasn't sure. He started spelling it, after a brief pause where it seemed like he was searching for the letters to his own name. A name that probably disappeared years ago when he first ended up on the street.
I heard him spell it slowly. "A...y....e...n..." but I still wasn't sure. He spelled it softly. That was it. I couldn't ask him again. I squatted next to him, and noticed his dry and beat up feet. A few open sores on his legs. The hard plastic braces. His little dirty backpack. That was all he had.
I then remembered that I had the ten-dollar bill in my shirt pocket, so I pulled it out and held it out to Ayen. I said, "Here brother, this is for you." He glanced up at it, then quickly looked back down at his feet. He softly asked, "What for?"
I was a little puzzled, and was horrified that maybe he thought I was giving him money, expecting drugs or something in return. The street life, where everything is exchanged or bartered for survival.
I smiled and said, "For food, drink, get yourself dinner. Anything."
He looked up again at me, and quietly asked, "Are you sure?" I smiled again and said, "Yes...whatever you want. Whatever you need." He slowly took the bill, held hit against his chest brace, and quietly said, "Thank you..."
My legs were starting to lock squatting down for so long so I began to raise myself up with feet that were beginning to go to sleep. I stood up, struggling, and looked at Ayen, and said, "Whenever I come this way, I will check up on you. Make sure you are alright. Okay?"
He looked up and quietly said, "Thank you."
I walked past him to return on my journey to get home, with an overwhelming feeling of Spirt. Accomplishment. I did the right thing. I didn't get attacked. I wasn't killed. As I proceeded towards the corner back to Iwilei Street, I looked back at him as he was looking up at me. I smiled my warmest biggest reassuring smile that I could muster, and said genuinely, "I love you brother..." They weren't just platitudes or words. I truly felt Love for Ayen. His tortured Soul.
Ayen smiled and said "Me too. Thank you" in a much firmer voice. Not as quiet and weak as before. It brought me great happiness inside. Great Happiness. Joy.
No sooner than I turned the corner onto Iwilei Street, I burst forth into tears again. The whole situation seemed so dire. The Happiness and Satisfaction was so fleeting. The whole scene. So tragic on many levels. My paltry ten dollars wouldn't last him one meal. I felt helpless on many levels, and selfish as well. I thought to myself, what a cruel World. And I am just putting Band-aids on the deeper suffering.
It was then that I noticed the wind was now blowing in the opposite direction and pushing me forward on my Journey to get home. I was filled with anguish and walked quietly. Thoughts racing in my head. When I hit Chinatown, I felt my chest start burning, like the onset of the angina I had been experiencing. I attributed it to the emotions and stress, as opposed to physical exertion and tried to calm my thoughts down.
It wasn't severe, but I was dreading it if it increased since it usually felt like the onset of a heart-attack. I still worried about Ayen. What would happen to him. What a horrible situation to be in. When I crossed Alakea Street, I noticed a beautiful plumeria tree next to a bank. I walked right up to it. There was a Beautiful solitary blossom glistening in the fading light. It was nose level for my height. I walked up to it, pressed my nose against the soft petals and inhaled deeply. It transported me back to my grandmother's home in Makakilo. I was nine years old again...if only briefly...with all the love and security and innocence of that time. My chest pains disappeared. I quietly and softly thanked my Grandmother, and told her I love her. I couldn't carry the weight of this World on my shoulders. There remains much work to be done, large and small...and sometimes, very, very small...
I continued on my journey. Thinking about Ayen. Feeling a sense of dread like I may never see him again. Not necessarily out of tragedy, but just how the World works. I thought about my decision to follow my na'au and head back into the darkness. I never would have met him if I came up with a million reasons why I shouldn't have gone back. My Mother knew what I needed. So did my Grandmother. So did the Wind and the Stars. The World may not have changed that night. But I know I changed. And I hope Ayen changed as well. If only for one more difficult dark night. To wake up to one more day. To find Hope. Life sustaining Hope. Just two little Souls. Passing in the night. Maybe only once in this Lifetime. Maybe only once in a trillion years. But with Love. Beautiful Love...