I'm waiting for the F train on the platform at 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. Toward the end, there's a homeless person rooting through one of the trash bins. Common enough sight in New York. Cleveland Indians jacket, knitted hat with a puffy ball on top. One arm buried to the shoulder.
The train arrives. There's another homeless person in the car, sitting with his head down, bent completely forward. A blue hooded sweatshirt poking out from the red and black plaid coat he's got on. Fingerless gloves on his knees. I sit down a few seats away, on the opposite side, and start reading my book.
The person from the platform enters the car, and starts the routine. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am a homeless female," she begins. "If you can spare any food so I don't have to eat out of the trash, a cookie, a piece of fruit, a cake, a sandwich, it would be very much appreciable and very much grateful..." She makes her rounds up and down the car.
Then I see the other homeless guy stir. He starts pawing at himself with both hands. The three well-to-dos sitting by him watch with cautious fascination. When the woman comes back his way, he withdraws a quarter and drops it in her cup.
Honor amongst thieves, I think. But it gives me pause.
He crumples back up, and she closes the speech. "Thank you ladies and gentlemen, enjoys the rest of your evening." On her way out of the car, she comes back up to the guy, and hands him a dollar bill.
Confused, he takes it.
"That's how that's done, you see," she says to him. "That's how that's done." She exits the car at the back, leaving the man sitting there holding the bill in his hand.
It's difficult to understand him, the speech is slurred and garbled, but he opens up on the three sitting by him.
"You see that, right? I got nothing, I got nothing, I give her a quarter though. Then she gives me this." He holds out the dollar, almost angrily. "What's that?" he demands. "What's that?"
The three shake their heads.
"That's God," he answers, pointing upward. "That's God. What else could that be?" He pockets the bill, and makes the sign of the cross in the air.