Mark slowed his pace when he spotted the homeless man again. This time he was in the middle of the street and not at his usual spot against the bricks of an abandoned warehouse. He was escorting an elderly woman to the other sidewalk. The woman grinned ear to ear while the homeless man carried on an animated conversation with her. Their arms were locked proper escort style; but, he used his free hand to gesticulate wildly to the woman as if he were explaining the secrets of the universe.
Their pace was slow enough that the light turned green before they reached the other side. Mark braced himself for the impending cacophony of car horns being smashed by impatient commuters, but it never came. He glanced at one of the drivers and noticed them smiling at the homeless man and old woman crossing the street. He checked another, and they showed the same content patience as the first driver. Mark came to a complete stop and stared in curiosity.
The pair reached the other side and the cars pulled forward, but with none of the screeching tires Mark expected from the afternoon rush. When it looked like they were about to part ways, the homeless man suddenly reached into his grimy, frayed dinner jacket and pulled out flower. It looked like a rose to mark, but it seemed to be made out of metal instead of being real. Its golden petals sparkled in the sunlight. The homeless man surprised Mark again when he leaned with his mouth closer to the rose. Something he did ignited a small flame on top of it and the old woman clapped with joy. The homeless man bowed low and presented the flaming metal rose to her.
The flame died out as she took it, but she brought it close to her mouth and suddenly the fire came back to life. The woman giggled then threw her arms around the man, obviously not caring about the layers of dirt she was rubbing against. She turned and walked away with a smile while the homeless man waited for the light to change. Once it did he walked back to his spot at a quicker pace than before.
“Well, I gotta know what that’s about,” Mark mumbled to himself. At 44 he was used to his own quirks and knew his curiosity would drive him crazy if he didn’t talk to the homeless man. Mark idled in place until the man was back against the brick wall holding a cardboard sign. Mark took a deep breath and walked up to him. Once in front of him, Mark read the sign.[I do miracles. $5]
“Afternoon,” Mark said. The dirt-caked man looked up and smiled at him with gleaming white teeth.
“Afternoon,” he nodded. “Do you need a miracle?” he asked.
“Maybe…,” Mark replied. “Mind if I ask you a few questions first?”
“Sure,” the homeless man grinned. “I’ve got nowhere to be.” Mark chuckled.
“Yesterday I happened to notice you giving someone else a cigarette,” he said. The homeless man nodded. “Can I ask why? Did they pay for a miracle cigarette?” he asked. The homeless man shrugged.
“Guy wanted a cigarette, I had spares,” he answered. Mark found himself surprised, but he couldn’t put his finger on why.
“But,… you’re homeless,” he said. The man nodded.
“Yeah. But, I’m not an asshole that doesn’t know how to share,” he said.
“Oh,” Mark nodded. He didn’t quite understand how someone with so little would give anything away, but he was more curious about the flower than anything.
“And right now, I just saw you help an old woman across the street,-” the homeless man interrupted Mark before he finished his question.
“Why are you under the impression that homeless people can’t be nice?” he asked. Mark shook his head. Both to deny the accurate accusation and in disappointment at himself. But, he pressed on with the real question.
“I wanted to ask you about the rose you gave her,” he said.
“Oh, sorry,” the homeless man chuckled. “Being homeless isn’t as glamorous as you might think, I get all kinds of negativity. Sorry,” he apologized again. “It’s called a dragonsbreath rose, what about it?” he asked.
“It was pretty amazing the way it caught fire,” Mark said. “Where did you get it? Do you have more?” The homeless man shook his head.
“Nope, sorry. That was the only one I had. The place I got it isn’t there anymore,” he shrugged. “I’m sure there are other bushes out there, but I couldn’t tell you where.”
“You gave her your last one? And you can’t get anymore?” Mark asked with narrowed, confused eyes, and a tilted head. It was something he couldn’t wrap his head around. He wouldn’t give anyone his last donut much less something that beautiful and apparently rare. The homeless man nodded.
“Why?” the man shrugged.
“Pay for a miracle, get a miracle,” he said.
“What? Even from across the street I could see that the flower was worth more than five dollars,” Mark said. The homeless man shrugged.
“To her, yes, but not to me. Things worked out well for both of us. So, are you in the market for a miracle or not?” he asked. Mark initially planned to avoid giving the homeless man money. Just because he was nice didn’t mean he didn’t have to work for his money like everyone else. However, Mark had the sudden hope that maybe he might walk away with the better end of the deal like the old woman had. He had no doubt that she’d get her five-dollar investment returned a hundredfold or more. That had to be the miracle and Mark couldn’t afford to miss the chance.
“Yeah,” Mark grinned. He pulled out a crisp 5 dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to the homeless man. “Alright. Miracle me.”
“Excuse me,” a frail voice said suddenly next to them. Mark turned to see the same old lady holding the golden rose. “I feel terrible for accepting such a beautiful thing,” she said. “Please, take it back.” Mark’s eyes widened. As far as he was concerned, the miracle was the rose coming back to him. The homeless man’s reaction only solidified the stray thought. He shook his head and smiled at the old woman.
“I’m sorry, Margaret,” he said. “All miracles are final. But, I can’t tell you what to do with a miracle once it happens, that’s up to you,” he said.
“I’ll buy it!” Mark jumped on the opportunity. “Five thousand dollars! I’ll write you a check right now.” She looked at the homeless man and he only nodded and shrugged.
“Up to you,” he repeated.
“Okay, yes,” she said. As soon as she nodded, even before she finished saying ‘yes’, Mark had the checkbook out with a blue pen flourishing across it. “Make it out to Margaret Wil-” she was interrupted by Mark.
“Cash,” he said as he handed it over. Margaret made the trade while admiring the big, looping signature that said Mark Wilson.
“How does it work?” he asked as soon as he held the rose.
“Blow on it,” the homeless man said.
“Gently,” the old woman added too late. Mark blew a hard puff of air on top of the rose and was met with a burst of fire. He managed to pull his face away in time, and grinned.
“Awesome,” he waved at the homeless man and old woman, then took off down the street at a near run.
“Sorry that didn’t go better,” the homeless man stood and held his elbow out for Margaret. She slipped her arm in his to accept his help again.
“Just getting to see him alive and doing well for himself is enough of a miracle,” she forced a smile at him. “Like you said, you can’t tell anyone what to do with their miracle”