Countdown Story #6: San Antonio, TX

Ray and Jimmy invite me to their alley stoop then commiserate about their friendship.

“You know how sometimes God puts someone in your path?” Ray says. “That’s what happened with us.”

Their adoring eyes meet. Ray lets out a nervous laugh.

“Yeah. It’s our energy that brought us together,” Jimmy says.

They take turns telling me where to go and what to do in San Antonio, but I won’t be here long enough for much sightseeing.

“Then probably just see the Alamo and the River Walk,” they say.

They assure me, however, that neither place will tell me anything about San Antonio.

Ray tugs at a black bag beneath his feet, pulls it up into his lap. He unzips it and reaches inside. Pulls out a stack of tattered photographs.

“Here, my man,” he says. “I want to show you this.”

I stand beside him as he looks over each tattered image. They are mostly of people. A few of shiny cars and mid-century houses. A couple blurry ones of a black and white dog. His steady flipping of pictures stops when he reaches an image of him holding a baby. In the photo his face is full, his belly chubbier than it is now. He’s smiling like someone cracked a joke before the shutter closed.

“This one here, man,” Ray says. “This is my daughter.”

Jimmy leans over to see the photo.

“Damn. She’s beautiful,” Jimmy says.

Ray takes his time on the next dozen in the stack. Tells me who’s who and what occasion is being celebrated. Friends and relatives. Another daughter.

“These here are my prized possessions,” Ray says. “They’re all from before my life got messed up.”

Ray says now his family has no idea where he is, and that’s exactly what he wants.

“I can’t imagine them knowing I’m living the way I’m living now,” he says.

He used to have a car and a house. He played soccer and was an avid swimmer.

“I can still do some gymnastics like I used to,” he says. “Watch this.”

Ray sets the bag of photos aside and jumps up. Threatens to do a back flip but Jimmy talks him doWn. So instead he rolls up his sleeve and flexes his bicep. It stretches tight and reflects the sun. It’s like a tennis ball is trapped under his skin. Jimmy gives Ray’s muscle a squeeze and raises a brow. They both crack up and Ray nudges Jimmy in the chest.

“Come on man,” Ray says. “That’s enough about me and my sad story. Go on and tell him about you, now.”

Jimmy looks at me and I see my reflection in his large sunglasses. “OK then,” Jimmy says. “I’ll tell you something I’ve been thinking about lately.”

Jimmy says not long ago he met a young man who was also living on the street. The man asked Jimmy if he had any food to spare. Jimmy did, but he told him no anyhow. After the young man walked away, Jimmy couldn’t shake the interaction.

“That young brother needed something I had and I held onto it,” he says. “That ain’t right.”

So Jimmy rustled up a couple things to share and chased the young guy down. Handed over enough for a couple meals.

“But now here comes the crazy part!” Jimmy says.

The next day, a white guy in a suit gave Jimmy twenty dollars for no particular reason. Just walked up and handed it right to him.

“I’m convinced that would never have happened if I had let that young cat walk away,” Jimmy says.

Ray nods, then takes a long drag on his cigarette and exhales over his shoulder.

“This giving and taking,” Ray says, motioning a finger between him and Jimmy, “This is what I think love is.”

[NOTE: Ray asked me not to share photos of him. So the accompanying image is of Jimmy, who was pleased to pose for a quick portrait.]

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