His Story

I met a homeless man at the bus stop, skin bronzed from days spent in the Albuquerque sun. He held a cardboard sign in his dirt-caked hands that read “Hungry Vet.”
I had payday and karma on my conscience, I handed him a twenty and asked him, “What’s your story?”
He told me, “There’s no story. I fought for this country, and this country let me slip through the cracks.”
His voice was rough, as though he needed something to drink. I motioned for him to come with me to the gas station.
He walked with a limp, a syncopated step and a wince that belied how much pain he was probably in.
I motioned as though he could lean on my shoulder as he walked, and he shook his head. I asked him, “What’s the story?”
He told me, “There’s no story. I was wounded, and the doctor let me slip through the cracks.”
I paid for three bottles of water at the gas station and handed him two. He drank the first in what seemed like one swallow.
He sighed as though he were suddenly tired, satiated by something as simple as cold, clean water.
He wiped the sweat off his brow with a wrinkled arm, and I noticed his tattoo. It read simply, “Beloved Daughter” in black cursive. It looked like he had it for a while.
I pointed at it and asked him, “What’s the story there?”
He gave me a look of quiet pain, a pain I knew from losing my mother. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a badly worn photograph.
The girl was young, but looked happy, full of joy and hope. Full of promise.
He told me, “There’s no story. I didn’t have any money, and God let her slip through the cracks.”
I felt tears in my throat, I could only say, “I’m sorry.”
He nodded at me, and held the water bottle up, and said “Thank you.”
We walked back to the bus stop in uncomfortable silence, and I noticed for the first time that he avoided stepping on any cracks in the concrete.
I sat back down on the bench but he kept on walking down the sidewalk.
He looked over his shoulder and told me,
“Good luck with your story.”