We were in the Dairy Queen having lunch. They have a cheap menu where for five dollars you can buy an entrée such as a chili dog, or chicken strips, or ¼ pound grill burger with a drink and a choice of sundae or French fries. I was having a chili dog and Ian was eating a burger. The place wasn’t too busy, still before noon. We didn’t sit near the door because it was a bitter cold day and the door leaked an icy draft. A couple of guys were on the other side of the partition beside us, a woman and child opposite them, and behind them was one young man by himself.
“You should see this guy eat.” I said to Ian who had his back to him.
The young man hadn’t taken his heavy coat off, just pushed the sleeves back. The remains of his meal showed in a couple of empty balled up wrappers. His head of bushy, uncombed and probably unwashed hair was bent over the table to get closer to the food. He was down to French fries and these he went after like he was just starting to eat his lunch. After shoving food in and still chewing he sat up, his hands holding the table top, and rocked back and forth in his seat. People glanced his way and then shrugged to one another. I thought he looked like a hungry guy enjoying his food. His rocking was a small dance of glorious rapture, I even heard him humming.
My big brother Jimmy is autistic and he rocks when he’s happy. As a child watching my brother I picked up the habit. Rocking made a happy thing feel twice as good. Jimmy also rocked when he was uncomfortable. In a crowd he would retreat to a corner, wrap his arms around his body and rock. Well into my adult life I rocked myself to sleep in my bed, especially when things were not going well in my life.
As a nurse I’ve seen people who are detoxing rock themselves through the tremors and pain of withdrawal. This guy didn’t seem a drug addict. He was just glad to be eating. He had left only a few stray French fries.
“Be back in a minute.” I said to Ian. I walked over and sat down opposite the guy. He stopped rocking and looked at me. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea until I saw his clear eyes looking into mine. I smiled. “Hello.”
“Hello.” I relaxed when I heard his childlike voice.
“Was your lunch good?”
“Yes.” He was looking steadily at my face.
“Are you still hungry?”
He licked his lips. “Yes.”
“Here.” I pushed two five dollar bills across the table top towards him.
“I don’t know you.” His little boy voice was worried. He looked at the money, but hesitated to take it.
I felt like I was spooking a deer in the woods. I stood up. “It’s OK. You don’t have to know me. I just don’t want you to be hungry.”
“Thank you!” He scooped up the money.
“Now, what did you do?” Ian asked me, half smiling, one eyebrow cocked.
“I gave the guy money, he was eating like he was half starved, and it’s bloody freezing out! Oh God, what if I’m wrong and he buys drugs?”
“Then he buys drugs.” Ian said.
The young man sat for a few more minutes, his meal finished, he never looked my way. Then, he stood, zipped up his coat, pulled the hood over his head, and walked out the door.
My back was to the door.
“Can you see him?”
Ian turned his head. He followed the man’s progress through the parking lot and then the street. A smile began to build on his face. Then he laughed out loud.
“What? What’s he doing?”
“He ran across the street. And you know the meridian on the other side? He leaped over it and threw his arms into the air.”
“Then, he went into the A&W.”