Look the Other Way

There were two men up ahead on the sidewalk chatting. I was walking up the hill toward them. One of them was a homeless man who I’ve seen around a lot – a drinker. I didn’t recognize the second man until he turned toward me a bit. It was Ernie, an old coworker who I’d last seen a few months ago. His face looked permanently fallen and serious. Ernie didn’t look straight at me, but he saw me even though I was still a good distance away. When I got closer he abandoned his companion in mid-sentence and walked up the hill away from both of us. He stopped several steps ahead and pretended to look out over the freeway. I passed the homeless man as he turned to shuffle his way up toward Ernie and started to muster a hello, carefully measuring out a level of greeting that he’d be least uncomfortable with. But he was pretending to look out over the freeway now, watching me from the corner of his bloodshot eyes. He was trying to make himself as small as possible. We were on an overpass, so there was nowhere for him to retreat to, no way to avoid me. I withheld my wave, pocketed my hand, and walked on.

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