I saw the man edging towards the corner, his hand precariously grasping for the small button that controlled the pedestrian traffic signs. I watched him teeter totter for a moment, his cane tapping out a skittish rhythm on the sidewalk in front of him as he found his footing. He appeared not so much lost as without direction.
I eased up to him at the intersection. "Waiting for the light to change?" I asked, a friendly tinge of irony in my voice. He quickly cocked his head in my direction, a curious smile now formulating on his face. His thick sunglasses reflected my own smile back at me.
"Just waiting for the people around me to start moving. My cue, so to speak."
"Need any help?"
"Got all the help I need right here," he said, lifting his cane for display, "but thanks the same."
"It's no trouble." I went back to minding my own business. His smile slowly faded, and he glanced over once or twice at me, almost as if he were trying to see if I was still there. Finally, he interrupted the noise of the city.
"By the way, what streets are we at?"
"46th and 8th Avenue."
"46th. You're sure? I had 48 in my head for some reason."
"I'm sure. 46th."
The lights turned yellow, and a few final cabs burst through the intersection. "It's about to change, sir. Just so you know." He obliged me with an agreeing nod and then, unexpectedly, his hand shot out at me, clutching at my arm. He finally got a firm grip, still looking across the way with dispassion.
The lights turned red, and suddenly the WALK sign lit up, and we were heading across. His soft hand had a viselike grip; he tapped his cane on the ground out of habit. We were a solemn creature, lurching across the avenue in our new conglomeration. As we neared the curb, I gave him a friendly boost, and we were across.
"You know, I've crossed a thousand streets in this city, and it's always a new journey. You've been most helpful," he said, that curious smile having returned once more.
I absentmindedly nodded at him, shook his hand briefly, and began my brisk walk down home, leaving behind a trailing "Goodbye!" in the summer air. As I rounded the corner at 45th Street, out of the everyone's sight, I paused and pasted myself to a wall of a porno shop, grabbing at my left pocket.
The old man's wallet was ratty and worn, a relic of better years. It hadn't been as easy this time, but that friendly boost had given me all the time I had needed. It had been so clearly visible, that square-shaped bulge tucked in his back pocket. It had been as huge as the moon. I casually flipped it open, ready to dump the credit cards and ..
Well, not quite empty. The small billfold was bare, except for a small ticket stub, good for one admission to the Empire State Building Viewing Plaza. What good would that do a blind man? I thought.
Suddenly, I cringed with a realization and reached into my right pocket: gone, of course, with all of the day's haul and then some.
I guess it's true what they say.
Hindsight is 20/20.