When I was in the third grade in grammar school back in a small city in China, I suffered from depression. I kept my head in my shoulders, my sight stuck on the ground as if there were gold in it. I walked so fast that no one could catch up with me.
No one wanted to catch up with me as well.
I passed a cent to the beggar every single time I passed by. I had no impressions of him. I thought he always sat there under that regular tree, shook a bowl in his hand, stayed through the winters and summers, saw every cent thrown into his bowl.
This time when I gave the coin to him, he uttered something.
“Thanks,” he said, innocently and carelessly. “Don’t you have any friends with you?”
I shook my head, smiling with embarrassment.
“Sit right here,” he said in a surprisingly young voice.
I used my hand to clean out the dirt beside him. He saw that and laughed at me. “My friend, would you rather want to make your ass dirty, or your hands?”
My face turned red and I sat down quickly. What a word he just said.
“Don’t you want to know how old I am?”
It was such an interesting and direct question that I grew quite confused while I watched him over and over. He had messy hair but it hadn’t turned grey yet, and his black beard seemed to have terrible care. His broken clothes were shaking and telling its story in the winds of spring. He sat there under the tree with sprouting green leaves, seeming not old at all.
I said, “35?”
He said, “24,” and laughed and laughed, quite proud of his little trick.
I went silent for a moment. “Then, why,” I said carefully and seriously, eyes focused on the bowl in his hands, "do you do this... Yeah, this?”
I threw the conversation into an awkward silence. People walked by, talking and laughing, and the cars crossed my sight rapidly like ants busy carrying things. From time to time there would be one of my classmates stopping in front of me and they would look right through me and chuckle. It was quite funny, I think, the picture the two of us made. The beggar and I.
“Time for you to go home,” he said. “And you’re definitely too young to know those things.”
His face was frozen. I stood up quietly and headed for the bus stop and got onto the bus. I watched him sitting there with a blank expression, right hand rubbing the dirty pants, under that light green tree.
I had no idea about the relationship between him and me. I couldn’t tell.
I talked to him from time to time, always started from his greetings, always when I was in low moods.
I put the coin into his hands; he smiled at me slightly.
It happened every single day. However, I never considered him my friend. Of course, I knew him only a little bit, added with the born doubt about beggars. There should be a long way to go as well; of course I wouldn’t be proud just because I had a beggar friend.
It had been 3 months since the special spring day he talked to me for the first time. The leaves on the tree grew much bigger and greener over him.
I passed him a cent. He smiled.
I walked past him, accompanied by the hot summer winds, shot by the spicy sunshine. I hid into the shadow of the bus stop.
The bus came and I got onto it at last, because everyone rushed to get a seat and I didn’t want to be in that mess.
My face turned red when I was trying to grab my coins. My hands moved slowly and I counted the coins I had in the pocket.
I don’t have enough, I found it out.
This was so embarrassing that sweat appeared on my head.
“Looks like you’re feeling hot,” one of my classmates said, and laughter filled the bus. I gave him a careless glimpse, and he gave me one back. The bus driver was watching me as if a policeman was scrutinizing a prisoner’s every single move, the door left opened, his hands tapping the steering wheel. The boys and girls on the bus were watching me with a disgusted expression after finishing laughing because of such a “funny” joke.
The driver finally exploded, pointing to the opened door. “Pay or go! You’re wasting the time for all of us!”
I shrank a little bit. I turned around and when I was about to get off, he came onto the bus, the beggar. He walked quite slowly up onto the stairs, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on him in quiet surprise. He picked two coins from the bowl and gently put them into the container. He turned around, and slowly pulled his legs off the bus.
There was suffocating silence. The only noise was the doors being closed. He, the beggar--or my beggar friend, whatever I could call him--was waving to me with a smile. I lifted my hand and waved in a small radius. He stood right there, under the boiling sunshine. behind him was that purely green and growing tree.
“You know what,” I said, “I don’t know how fast the time flies. I’ve gotta go next month. Going to a middle school in another city.” I swept the dust away from my pants, and continued talking. “I really want to thank you for saving me out of depression to some degree. Sometimes when I felt lonely, I still know you’re here. Really. But, well, I’ll be gone for years, after a few months.”
He said nothing, nodding slightly. He sat there, watching into the void. The brown leaves which fell down from the trees covered his lap. But his hands were frozen and he didn’t clean those leaves from his legs. I, a 6-grader now, looked a little maturer than before. A little.
“Hey, you know what?” he said, imitating how I started the conversation, smiling a little bit. “You asked me why I did this, huh?”
“I was an orphan,and through my own efforts and scholarship I got to be an IT student and graduated with a great grade. well at least they told me I was a great student. Of course I was accepted to one of the best companies here. I did an excellent job there, but, you know what?” I saw tears coming out of his eyes focused on the east, the tears reflecting the orange lights from the sun of the late afternoon. His fists hammered his legs, casting the leaves aside. “Just because of my terrible efforts... Others were jealous... Jealousy, others’ jealousy, made me out of work...”
“I don’t know how to... how to communicate with my co-workers. Everyone hated me; everyone hates me, always. I work so hard that everyone around me feels threatened, and anyone who has a little bit of a relationship with the boss can use a simple trick to kick me out of my position...”
He broke into tears and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort him. My sorrow was just a bunch of combined boring things. He patted my shoulder and said, “Remember, not everything can be earned by efforts. Really, the world is just that unfair.”
I said nothing.
“I can do nothing. I’m an orphan. I don’t really know how to communicate with others. I don’t know what to do, and the world is definitely not as friendly as I think. What can I do? I can only run away from everything. Everything. I’m not afraid to start everything all over again. Dreams never die. Never.” He wiped the tears out of his face, calming himself down. “Come on, which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?”
He stood between me and the sun, his outline traced by darkness. Over his long, long shadow were those falling leaves, falling, falling, falling.
“Just go,” he said without turning his head toward me. “Go home. Your parents should be worrying about you at this time.”
He sighed, and repeated, “Which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?” And he laughed. The laughter was noisy and wild.
In the winter vacation of my 8th grade, which I spent in a middle school in another city, I decided to go back to my hometown and stay for days. One day I went to roam around my hometown. The temperature was swaying just above the freezing point but it didn’t snow. I stood under the tree, the bare tree, the tree with all of the memories of the only beggar friend I had ever had.
No one was there.
A beggar walked towards me with great effort, shaking, his clothes half worn out, a dirty hat, a pair of dusted and broken pants, his beard messy and dirty, the frozen liquid on it shining. It’s him, I thought, but through the thick mist in the winter morning I could only see an unclear outline. With me in sight, he pulled his legs even harder towards me, and an enthusiasm and indifferent smile appeared on his face. He shook his bowl with his wrinkled and withered hands and the coins made annoying noises inside it.
“My brother... you have any...just any change?”
What happened to you, my... my brother?
The world was frozen. Everything stopped moving and only he, the beggar, my once-had-been beggar friend, was bending his body towards me, handing the bowl to me, with that pleasing and disgusting smile on his face. I didn’t know whether only I was his “brother”, or every single person is either his “brother” or “sister." I sighed, held my breath and controlled my heart rate, focusing my gaze into his earnest eyes. I pulled out a coin and tamped it into his bowl, and he bowed and bowed and, and “thanks, thanks, thanks” escaped his mouth. Then he walked away slowly, as if he was injured all over his body, and suddenly walked much faster and ran away from the scene and the sins.
I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say.
I had questions in my throat. Of course I did. I just thought those words were pointless.
Where are your dreams that live forever? Are you going to start all over again, as you said, or be a lifelong beggar? Where is the direction you called “forward”?
“Which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?” I heard someone speaking, voices coming from the sky. I walked away, with my dreams and a dream that had stopped breathing, from that tree standing in the cycle of the seasons and every single second of the memories and everything. When I was trying to flee away I burst into laughter. The laughter was noisy and wild.
He was once a motivation for me. He was once an uncommon reason for me to live in this world. Once.
Well, how funny is it? Brother, how funny is this joke? A beggar friend? A beggar with a dream?
The snow was coming down from the sky. The tears which stayed on my chin froze up.
Larry is 17-year-old from New Mexico.