Philadelphia Metropolis

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A Random Act of Kindness

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By Ada Kulesza

It was a January night and the coldest night of the year when I first met Eren. I was walking south down Second Street, glad to be moving in the frigid air. I was already late, and my boyfriend was waiting at the Ritz movie theater. I could see its lights when I saw a man with a grimy outstretched hand and a feeble voice that said: "Please, can you help me out with some change?"

I stopped and pulled some change from my pocket and noticed that the face, snot-nosed and bearded, looked young.

"Here. Hey, I hope you don't mind me asking, but how old are you?"

"Thanks," he said, stuffing the change into his puffy jacket pocket. A dingy, thin blanket was draped over his knees. He was sitting on a marble stoop that looked like solid ice to my freeze-burned eyes. "I'm 26."

"Wow, you're my age. Are you homeless?"

His face looked much older than mine, creased with the telltale signs of exposure, exhaustion and ass-kicking by the world. "Yeah, I'm trying to get enough money to get my medicine, but it's hard."

Sure enough, a man in a suit walked by, ignoring the young man's plea for change. He showed me his arm, in a cast.

"You don't seem to be on drugs or anything."

"I'm not on drugs. I don't even drink, except maybe a beer or two sometimes. I haven't even had a beer in a year. I started smoking cigarettes out here. I've just... I don't know. This" -- he lifted up his cast -- "is from the other night. You know about how a guy got killed around the corner here the other night?"

"Yeah, I heard about that." Kevin Kless.

He was a 23-year-old man beaten to death in Old City by four men who thought he was taunting them while Kless was calling out for a cab.

"I saw the whole thing," the man said. "I tried to break it up, but they just beat me and left me for dead, too. I woke up in the hospital. I went to the police about it. Newspapers say there was only one victim, but there was two. Those guys broke my arm. I need to get medicine, but I'd have to take the bus."

"If you don't mind me asking, how'd you end up homeless?"

"I'm from Florida. My dad died last year, and it was really hard on me. I thought I'd make a fresh start, so I took a bus to Washington, D.C. That was a huge mistake. I ran out of money, so I walked to Baltimore, and from there, I walked here."

"You walked to Philly from Baltimore?"

"Yeah." Another person walked by, and the young man asked again for change, but he was ignored.

"Is it hard to make money out here?"

"Yeah, I've gotten beat up, all my stuff stolen. Some people bring me food. I just need to go and get my medicine."

I text messaged my boyfriend and told him to meet us. "What's your name?"

"I'm Eren. What's yours?"

"I'm Ada. I'm just telling my boyfriend to come here. He's waiting for me. He's a good guy."

As I waited, I walked down the block and watched Eren try to make money from indifferent passersby. My feet were numb in my boots, and he wore gritty tennis shoes. When my boyfriend met me I explained Eren's situation. I told Eren we had to talk about something, and we ducked into an ATM vestibule, grateful to be out of the wind.

I was in turmoil; I couldn't let Eren sleep outside tonight. He might die. But what would my roommates say? I lived with five people in a row home; he'd be difficult to hide, and the roommates would not approve. What if he stole something?

"Eren, how much is your medicine?"

"It's free. I just have to get to the clinic."

"Is it open right now?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, we're going to give you money for the bus, and when you come back, I want you to spend the night at my place. But we have to be really discreet." I felt like crying. "I think my roommates just wouldn't understand, but you can sleep on the floor of my room."

He looked as if he felt like crying. We wound up seeing a movie while Eren took the bus and got his medicine, but I don't remember what movie it was.

When Eren came back, we got on the train. Outside my house, from the flashing lights in the window, I could see my roommates were watching a movie, too. We stashed Eren's sad little bundle on my porch, under a side table, and I told him to just wave and smile as we walked past my roommates in the living room, under the dim glow of the screen.

My room is tiny -- it was just big enough for a bed roll and a sleeping bag. Eren slept on the floor beside me and my boyfriend. When he got out of the shower it smelled like homelessness. After we rose the next morning my room smelled like homelessness, too. I couldn't even let him wash his clothing, but he said it was okay. The next morning was mercifully warmer.

Eren had a broken hand, but he waved off our help. He said he was used to carrying all his stuff around. My boyfriend handed him $20, and I gave him a bunch of quarters for laundry and a token. He said he didn't need the token because most SEPTA drivers let the homeless ride for free.

"Today's my birthday, guys," he said as we waited. "All I've wanted to do for so long is just go to the movies and forget about everything for a while. Because of you, I'll be able to."

The trolley pulled up, he got on and left. I visited him in Old City a couple of times to check on him, but I haven't seen him since the weather's warmed up.

I only pray that he's found a place to live, and more friends to help him.

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