Alien Kindness (5-17-18)

[WP] A homeless guy that you see everyday on your way to and from work always holds up a sign that says, “The Aliens are coming!” One day, as you’re coming home, you see that he has added something to his sign. Now it says, “The Aliens are coming! They’ll be here tomorrow!” [Link to post.]

“Mornin’, Jerry.” I dropped a $20 in his coffee can like I did every Monday morning. The cross-legged, bearded man lowered his cardboard sign and looked up at me with a smile. 

“Thanks, Buddy.” He looked from me to the crowd of strangers marching by, making a noticeable effort to pretend he was invisible. Then he looked down at the coffee can that held only my donation and back up to me. “You know,” he scratched his beard and his eyes softened. “Sometimes it seems like you’re the only decent human around. I don’t think I could get through the week without you. I appreciate it.” I reached down to shake his hand, and his smile grew broader. 

“You wouldn’t have to struggle out here every week if you accepted more help.” His hand released mine and he waved me away. 

“You do more than your share, I can’t ask you for more,” he chuckled. “Now go on and get to work so I can eat next week.” I laughed and waved at him as I left. I walked to work thinking it odd that I considered a homeless man my only friend. I tended to keep to myself and work provided little opportunity for making friends. Jerry told me I was the first person to donate to him after he ended up in my city. He claimed his own street corner that happened to be on my usual route to work three years ago. That Monday I happened to be feeling generous. On my way home that day he thanked me profusely and offered me friendship bracelet he braided in return. I smiled and thanked him for the blue and purple string bracelet as I put it on. The next week I did it again, and after that it became habit. 

We chatted here and there the first year, and by the second I’d begun buying us monthly lunches to hang out. Despite my willingness, Jerry always turned down ‘too much’ help, as he called it. He turned me down when I tried to donate more than once a week. I felt confident I could get him a starting position in the mail room, but he turned that down too. During one of our lunches he told me the only reason he accepted those invites was because he felt like a real person having lunch with a friend. A few months ago he started holding up a sign that said, “The Aliens are coming!” I asked him about it at his favorite burger place and he laughed. 

“There’s a reason I didn’t try to pinpoint their arrival,” he said with a wink. “There’s aliens out there somewhere, and I’m sure they’ll be here someday,” he said laughing some more. “I gotta entertain myself however I can, you know?” I nodded and joined his laughter. 

“Well I guess you’re not wrong,” I said. I liked Jerry. Over the years I figured out his particular situation was a choice for him. I didn’t know what to think at first, but he seemed happy enough to be panhandling. The money I donated to him was no major loss to me, and I enjoyed his stories about his free-spirited way of life. The way I looked at it was: it costs me next to nothing to make someone else happy. I kept donating even after I realized it. 

Work went by uneventfully, and then I started the walk home. I waved at Jerry as I passed by, and he waved back with his sign. I noticed it was different. He added another line at the bottom.

“Tomorrow?” I asked. “What happened to ‘someday’?” I asked using air quotes. He stood from the ground, but his eyes remained downcast. “Hey Buddy, man I hate to ask.” His hand rubbed the back of his neck as he asked. He really behaved like shame ate away at him. “I know our monthly thing isn’t till next week, but can I impose on you for dinner tonight instead of next week? Please?”  My mind quickly ran down my plans for the evening. Dinner, then bed. I nodded.

“Yeah man, no problem. We’ll do both,” I said, eager to spend time with my friend instead of eating alone. “What’re you craving?”

“Burgers & Burgers.” He named his favorite place. It should have been my first guess, but his request caught me by surprise. In three years Jerry never asked me for a single thing.

“Grab your can and let’s get going,” I said. I turned to face the direction I just came from, and he joined me. He left the can behind, but I assumed he grabbed his earnings. We sat down in our usual white and orange booth, and the waitress came over as soon as we were comfortable. After she took our order Jerry turned to me with a curious look in his eyes. His whole body seemed to be stiffer, and only a ghost of his usual smile remained.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“Yeah. Look, uhhh. You know me, right? We’re friends?” I nodded and held up my arm and tugged at my sleeve to show him I still wore the blue and purple bracelet on my wrist. He smiled. “Okay, so -” he stopped talking when the waitress showed up with our drinks. Then he started up again.

“Aw hell. I’m just gonna say it, and you react however you think is appropriate. The aliens will be here tomorrow. I know that, because they told me,” Jerry said. He stopped talking talking, and I realized I subconsciously leaned away from him. I felt embarrassed and leaned forward again.

“Man, you’re normally straight as an arrow. Did you get around to trying some LSD or something? I ain’t gonna judge, I’ve tried it myself. But just be careful, man.” He shook his head, then he made an effort to look around the restaurant and see where everyone else was. I looked too and I got the impression no one would see or hear us until the waitress brought our burgers. He leaned over the table.

“If you trust me, stay calm.” He put his hand on the table and grabbed the yellowing, chewed nail on his middle finger. Then he pulled it off. I grimaced and half closed my eyes, but I did my best to stay calm. Because my friend asked me to. Instead of blood I saw a grey wiggle.

“Is that another finger… in your finger? Man, start explaining it quick. Please.” He lifted his hand off the table slightly and pulled down on the end of his finger. The skin came off like a torn rubber glove leaving only the bony grey finger. He used it to flip me the bird for added effect, then he pulled his hand under the table and out of sight.

“Aliens will be here tomorrow, they’re my ride home. You’re my only friend on the planet, wanna come along?”

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