I met him outside a government office here in New York, after a long afternoon of dealing with the New York bureaucracy and everything that word entails – standing in line for an extended amount of time with my eleven-month-old daughter, who is determined to explore anything within hands’ reach (and jumping from my arms if it isn’t within hands’ reach), receiving a numbered ticket, sitting down to wait again and then dealing with forms and questions all the while trying to keep her from wrecking the place. It was exhausting and frustrating.
After being in the stuffy room for two hours, I was more than happy to make a quick exit. But thoughts of taking the train home in the freezing cold with an unhappy baby made me call my husband to see if he could pick us up. Thankfully, he was finished at his office and I re-entered the building to wait for my ride.
That’s when I met Bruce.
Bruce was standing in the entryway to the building. He wore a puffy, North Face jacket and a wool beanie. Large glasses were perched on his nose and I estimated that he was in his mid-sixties. He was on the phone, obviously borrowed as the lender was standing next to him, edging his way out the building.
When he hung up, he returned the phone and the lender asked, “Are they coming?” and he responded, “Yes.”
The other man departed and it was just me and Bruce in the entryway. My daughter was playing with my phone in my desperate attempts to keep her calm, when Bruce began looking at her. A little too young to understand that strangers are not friends, my daughter has a habit of flashing winning smiles to anyone who merely looks her way, immediately gaining a passerby’s attention. She is engaging and reactive and has made many friends with her social and outgoing nature.
Bruce and my daughter were soon making each other giggle in the entryway. The other folks coming and going would stop to smile and sigh sweetly.
Then Bruce asked me for my phone.
“I’m waiting for a ride,” he explained in a husky voice, his words slow and measured.
“I have the number to a service that I use. I’ve been waiting since four and my car hasn’t turned up yet.”
There was only the slightest trace of annoyance in his voice. I looked at the time. 5:30 p.m.
“You’ve been waiting since four?”
That sounded a little too long to be waiting for a ride. Was the ride really coming or was it just in Bruce’s head?
“Would you mind if I used your phone to call the service?” Bruce asked me.
“Didn’t you just speak to them?”
“No. I gave the man back his phone because he had to go, but they put me on hold and I don’t know what’s happening.”
Something tugged at my heart. It was freezing outside. It was dark and miserable, a really gloomy winter’s evening. Bruce seemed to be all alone.
“Maybe you can take a taxi?”
“I don’t have money to pay for a taxi.” Bruce said impatiently, as if this was obvious, “I use this service the whole time. See?” he pointed to a number on the slip of paper, “That’s my user number. They brought me here.”
I took the phone from my daughter who protested loudly. Bruce reached out his hand to take it, but I pretended not to see. If I’m going to help him out, at least let me make some boundaries, I thought, rather selfishly.