Challenge: cleaning cloth, stroll, parking lot
The Window Washer
I stepped out of the over-chilled mega-mart into an atomic blast of sweltering heat. The thermals radiated off the blacktop softening under the blazing summer sun. I hurried across the hectare parking lot as I felt the milk start to curdle. This was no time for a stroll.
Then I saw him: ragged cut-off jeans, hairy arms and chest oozing from beneath a stained muscle tank, his greasy and matted gray hair tied back with a string, and a sun-bleached headband catching the rivers of sweat which streamed from atop his bald dome. Grime and stench—with a spray bottle in one hand and a cleaning cloth in the other.
I was still five spaces down when he began smudging my windshield with his tattered rag. He worked eagerly, smiling and nodding his head as he reached across the car to the middle of the glass. “No. No thank you,” I insisted as I hurled my groceries into the truck. “I don’t have any cash. I’m sorry.” I shoved the cart into the corral, singed my hand on the door handle, and slipped in the car.
He stepped back, looking hopeful. I refused eye contact. The engine revved. I slid the gears into reverse. But, one guilt-ridden look askance told me a different tale. Beneath layer upon layer of dirt, smut collected in the crevasses etched into his scorched skin. Pale blue eyes dim and wet with age bespoke desperation, the death of hope. Truly, how great was the span between him and me? Not much, I fear. Too close.
Minus my emergency stash, one final glance in the rear-view changed my day: a broken old man sobbing with relief with a twenty-dollar bill in his hand.