The phone woke me up at six in the morning. I ignored it, letting my voice mail answer. It rang again shortly after and I got up to turn off the ringer. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and looked at my caller ID. The calls had come from my building’s intercom system. I figured it was Robert. A few days before, he’d called several times in a row from the building intercom and later from the Salvation Army. There had also been a string of messages from him while I was out the night before.
There were several messages on my voicemail, all from the last fifteen minutes. Robert was standing outside my building, effectively leaning on the doorbell. The first message was basically, “Jeff, are you there?” Followed by a couple where I could just here him moving around. He’d spent the night at a mission and everyone had been put out in the street at 4:00. It was raining. He got increasingly agitated over the next couple of messages. “I’ve been trying to contact you all week. I know you’re there.” “It’s raining and cold and I’m going to get the flu.” “I have a funny feeling that you’re mad about the hundred bucks you loaned me. Well, I’m going to leave now and I won’t bother you again until I can pay you back.” There were a few more messages, where he waited for me to pick up the phone until the intercom hung up on him.
I answered the phone on the next call and told him that I couldn’t help him today.
“I’m not here for money,” he told me, “I just need a place to rest.”
I told him that I wasn’t talking about money either and repeated that what I’d given him before wasn’t a loan.
He started to talk again, but the intercom cut him off. He probably thought that I’d hung up on him. He didn’t call back.
I guess I’ve drawn a line between my hospitality and my need for a life. Unfortunately, due to my mode of delivery, his image of me has probably (rightfully) skewed from guardian angel to selfish and careless devil. I’ve never seen him betray an ounce of bitterness or pessimism before this incident. And now, he’s probably feeling worse than ever and I turned my back on him. I hope that, the next time I run into him, he’s doing better. And I hope that he’s not too mad to even talk to me.