The Liar


If someone tells a fabricated or unreal story, yet appears sincere, would you describe that person as simply a liar, or insane?

Sometimes it’s transparent. Like the time a guy approached me downtown and told me his car ran out of gas in the middle of the road a block away and asked for gas money. I said I’d help him push the car to the side. He then backpedaled on his story and said he just needed cash. I don’t doubt he needed money, but regarding his story, I would just describe the guy as a liar — and a poor one at that. But was he insane? I can’t say one way or the other based on the information to hand, but I had no reason to believe he was.

But there are truly insane street people who periodically shout incoherently at traffic or buildings, and others who chronically mumble to themselves.

How about a street person who portends your lunchtime death on a bright, sunny day?

I didn’t know him, but I recognized him. And I guess he recognized me. I’ve passed him many times over the years and I’ve occasionally said hello, as I do with almost anyone I encounter.

This time we were both stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change. Two pedestrians, momentarily stranded in time, waiting for our lives to continue.

Some of the street people are druggies. Others are crazy. Some of the recently down-on-their-luck ones can be emotional. Most are polite. The transient ones are fleeting. But this guy was a regular face in the area. I’ve seen him holding a “Will work for food” sign and hanging out in the park with other homeless. He’s probably asked me for money in the past, but not recent enough that I recall.

His clothes were in good shape. His dark hair seemed clean, albeit uncombed. More nonchalant than unkempt. His dark eyes were calm and he appeared unhurried and untroubled.

I nodded a greeting.

He nodded back, held a gaze on me for a moment and quietly observed, “When you die, I’ll be available to speak with you, if you wish.”

Although I haven’t had many meaningful conversations with the local street people, other than exchanging a few pleasantries or enduring occasional lunatic rants, he struck me as a lucid fellow. In spite of his strange remark, I offered a playful retort, “Do I look that old?”

“Au contraire,” he grinned, “your true age has nothing to do with your body.”

The walk sign lit and we both headed into the crosswalk, onward to our respective futures. We were the only foot traffic crossing four lanes of city roadway and fronting a stopped parade of cars and trucks intent on being anywhere but here. “That’s good because my wife says I never act my age.” Although he had an interesting approach to opening a conversation, I was quite familiar with the ways of panhandling and anticipated that at any second now he would ask me if I could spare some change.

“Watch out!” He extended his right arm across my chest to let a car go by in the far lane, narrowly avoiding an impact. I could feel the driver’s side mirror whoosh by my stomach.

I was startled. I’m usually observant of all motion around me, especially when crossing streets. I couldn’t believe I had not foreseen the potential collision as I watched the wayward driver go by, who was as equally disconcerted. Although on his phone, he silently mouthed to me “I’m sorry,” as he completed his right turn. I instantly recognized we had been hidden from his view, obscured by a truck on our immediate right that had stopped beyond where it should have. My crosswalk partner lowered his arm and we continued to the other side without further comment.

However, questions swirled in my rattled noggin.

Was I too distracted by the odd conversation? Or, did the protruding position of the truck make it just as unlikely that I would have seen the errant car even if I had been alone?

It was apparent this homeless guy just saved my life. But was he also the reason I was almost killed?

I was too introspective to pay him much mind while contemplating how different this moment could have unfolded. My anticipation for a money request was far away when he offered a parting sentiment before we went our separate ways, “Today wasn’t your day to go. But if I’m around when you do, I’ll be available to chat.”

by George Alger


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