I met a ghost one of these past summer days. He crossed in front of my car as I made my way through Salem’s backstreets. Two other men walked with him, smiles twisting on their faces, making light of the summer heat. His eyes met mine and locked in fleeting recognition. But I’m sure it was only the hope in my eyes that he recognized.
His face was sweet laughter and summer fun. He must have been less than thirty-years-old. His mouth with a dip in his upper lip; bangs kissed his eyebrows and flaunted unruly.
I parked my car and watched as the ghost approached a trashcan outside the local Burger King. He rummaged through it, pulling out a treasure in the form of a half-eaten burger wrapped in a half-crushed, yellow Burger King mantle. I watched as he uncovered another’s discarded lunch and lifted it to his mouth. It was gone in a few ravenous swallows. I grabbed at his face with my eyes, feeling lost in his dilemma.
I wandered over to my destination—City Hall and noted, for the first time, the odor of urine wafting from an alley beside it. The day was hot. The image of the ghost flitted through my mind, and I imagined him trudging to the alley in his heavy coat to relieve himself—all the time remembering the unabashed smile on his face.
I turned and saw my ghost as he disappeared into the alley and fulfilled my waking dream. He emerged, and I stifled the desire to reach into my pocket. I knew these ghosts were most often alcoholics and drug users, and my donation would most likely be used to treat those afflictions. I would not resolve the need to dine on others’ trash with any kindness.
I turned my back on my ghost, walking away from the haunting image of homelessness. An image where a hot day did not melt the smile on his face even though he sported a dark-gray carapace meant for winter days—even though his dinner table was in the trash bucket outside of a Burger King. I wondered how he had come to this, but I dared not ask.
A month went by, and I found the need to travel to City Hall again. An ornate, black gate had been installed in the mouth of the alley my ghost had used for a urinal. The smell was gone, and I wondered where the homeless now went to fulfill the call of nature. Their world was becoming smaller. Guilt surrounded me as I thought of the empty room in my house.
My ghost haunts it now, and I am content.
Copyright 2017 Joyce Bowen