ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE MAN ON THE STREET

The late-summer rain storm caught Jesse and Kristine by surprise.

It had been calm and clear when they went into the church. But by the time they emerged, a sudden storm was bending tree branches with its brisk winds and torrential rain. Neither Jesse nor Kristine was prepared for rain, and downtown traffic had forced them to park several blocks from the church building.

"Jesse?" Kristine looked up at her husband, her unspoken request clearly understood.

"Why don't I run and get the car and come back here to pick you up?" Jesse suggested.

"Would you mind?" she asked.

Her husband smiled. "You wait here," he said, turning up his collar against the summer storm. "I'll be right back."

Kristine almost felt bad, watching him hustle off into the downpour.

Almost.

She savored the relative comfort of the warm, dry spot she had found just outside the church. Within a few minutes, however, her comfort was disturbed by the feeling that she was being watched. At first it was just a feeling -- eerie, troubling and just a little ookie. But then she noticed the unkempt gentleman in the tattered clothes. He was sitting under the same protective covering that was shielding her from the rain, holding a sign that said, "Stranded! Please help!" And he was definitely watching her, his eyes never leaving her, his stare fixed and unnerving.

Kristine's first impulse was to run, to try to catch up with Jesse, but he was long out of sight and could be returning with the car at any moment. She next started looking for somewhere else to stand, but there just weren't any other nearby options that provided shelter from the storm. So she moved as far away from the man on the street as she could, and tried to think about something other than the hollow, world-weary eyes that seemed to be following her every move.

At last she could see Jesse driving toward her. She inched forward, preparing to dash through the rain to the safety and security of their car. At the same time, however, the man on the street seemed to be inching toward her, clutching something tattered in his hands. As soon as Jesse was in front of her, Kristine ran into the rain. To her horror, the man on the street ran with her, lunging at her with the object in his hands. She kept running faster, and was suddenly aware that the rain was falling everywhere around her, but not on her. The man on the street was running alongside her, holding a blanket over her head, shielding her from the rain.

He stood by the car, absorbing the full impact of the summer storm while holding the blanket over Kristine as she slipped into the car in relatively dry comfort. She looked at him and smiled with appreciation -- and suddenly, less fear.

"Can't let that pretty dress get wet!" he said. Then he turned and slogged back through the rain to the shelter.

"What was that all about?" Jesse asked as Kristine tried to catch her breath.

"I'm not sure," Kristine said. "But I think I just learned something. Something surprising."

More surprising than a late-summer rain storm.

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--- Joseph Walker

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