by Jesse Edwardson
The homeless shelter was crowded. Who am I kidding? It’s always crowded.
Leon Robinson waited in line for a meal. He was a patient man. He didn’t gripe like some of the people in line ahead and behind him. He just stood quietly, with his stocking cap in his dark and wrinkled hands, and waited for the line to move forward.
Leon liked to watch people to pass the time, so he looked around the room. So many children, he thought. Too many children. It’s so sad. They should be tucked in their beds, in a warm house. He saw single moms, looking lonely and desperate. He also saw many men here. Men like him, black and past his prime, and men unlike him. These men were scrawny strung out junkies and wannabe gang bangers. Everyone here needed something. Some of those here needed everything. Leon only needed a meal and a warm place to sleep.
The line took a step forward.
The front door of the shelter swung open and let in the frozen December wind. A family of four came in. They looked lost and half starved. The father shut the door again as quickly as he could manage. He turned to face the room and gathered his family together in his long arms. They huddled together for a few minutes until a shelter worker approached them with a warm smile and four Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate. They exchanged a few words and the volunteer led them to a crowded school lunch table. The mother and children sat down on the narrow bench while the father remained standing. He looked as if he were guarding them. In a way, he was.
“Hey old man, get to steppin” some crack-head startled Leon out of his reverie. The line had taken a couple of steps forward.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Sorry,” Leon replied. He could remember a time when young people respected their elders. Days long forgotten it would seem. Leon could remind this youngster about respect, but he learned long ago that it’s not worth it. Two stab wounds in his belly has taught Leon to bite his tongue.
Leon finally reached the counter. He picked up a tray and waited to be served.
“Well, hello Mr. Robinson, and Merry Christmas!”
“Hello Sylvia. Thank you. And Happy Hanukkah!” Leon smiled at the short and round lady behind the counter. Leon and Sylvia have known each other for some time now.
Leon has been homeless for quite a while and has always come to the Forty-Seventh Street Shelter. Sylvia has been a volunteer here for over fifteen years.
Sylvia came to America with her husband, Karl Steinman, in the winter of 1939. The rise of the Nazis in their homeland caused them to flee Europe. They found a good life in America and through all of their years together they have tried to give back every chance they could.
“Thank you,” said Sylvia. “What will it be tonight, ham or turkey?”
“A little of both if you can spare it, please,” Leon replied. He didn’t like to ask for too much but it had been days since his last meal.
“Of course dear.” Sylvia placed a slice of ham and a slice of turkey on a plate and handed it across the counter to Leon. He smiled appreciatively.
“Thank you so much Sylvia, I am much obliged.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. There is plenty here for everyone to have seconds, maybe thirds.” Sylvia returned Leon’s smile.
“Well then, thank you for your kindness and your warm smile,” Leon said with a wink.
Sylvia blushed. Leon moved down the counter and filled his tray with corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, milk, and a slice of pumpkin pie. The shelter must have raised a lot of money to be able to put out a spread like this, Leon thought. He was glad for it.
With his tray full, Leon turned to face the room and search for a seat. The shelter was so full, and far too full for Christmas eve. He spotted a seat next to the family he saw come in earlier. He walked over and sat down. The father had taken a seat too. He must have decided to relax a little.