Picture 3

 

That guy is sleeping on the cement again, next to the comfort station at the Rainier Beach terminal. What food do I have, I think, cycling through what I brought for dinner. Today it’s cinnamon swirl bread. I grab the loaf from my bag and walk over there.

After he nods in greeting from his prone position I say, “hey, you want some cinnamon bread?” I look at the package, reading off the official name. “Soft Cinnamon Swirl?”
“Aw naw, I don’t go in for bread.”
“Oooohhh,” I reply in disappointment. “There I was, thinkin’ I had somethin’ for ya!”
“Yeah, people be givin’ me peanut butter jelly all the time at the Mission, can’t tell you how many folks come by wit’ bread, rolls, buns, but I just cain’t go for it.”
“Shoot.” To be homeless and wheat-intolerant all at once– shoot indeed.
“Thanks though.”

“I’ll take it,” says a voice, seated nearby. “I’ll take some bread.”
This man is younger, shivering on the bus stop bench with his arms inside his sweatshirt and the whites of his chocolate brown eyes contrasting against the black night all around us. He seems like one who doesn’t speak up much, but the situation here has compelled him to be heard.
“Oh, cool,” I respond as I walk over to him. To be too reverential might strike one as pity, which I try to avoid; the better to talk to him simply as another peer, helping out without too much emotion and no great expectation of gratitude. “This is good,” I tell him. “It’s got cinnamon. It’s my dinner though, so I gotta keep the rest, but here.”
“Thanks,” he mutters.

I say goodnight to our friend on the ground and step into the bathroom.

In the comfort station I think to myself, I don’t need all these. I’ll be off in three hours. Why am I even eating this stuff? Soft Cinnamon Swirl bread? I’m usually the guy chomping on things like lettuce and kale and spooning out rice and beans!

Stepping out, I ask him, “Hey, you want some more?”
“Oh yeah,” he says in his quiet voice. “You right, this stuff is pretty good.”
“Yeah. it’s awesome. Nice.” I load him up, taking out two slices for myself.
“Thanks man.”
“Always. Have a good night!”
“You too!”
“Thanks man!”

I walk away, both of us smiling to ourselves, enjoying the taste of the same food, the delicate flavor of cinnamon against the cold night, and the sensation of being acknowledged as an equal, considered and loved, unjudged and cared about.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.