Johnny Cheeseburger

By Eliza Jordan |

My foot was heavy on the gas pedal as I complained about the cost of heart-worm medicine. Why though? So stupid and selfish — this medicine allows my dog to live.

I thumped my fingers one by one to the beat of the melodies blaring from my car. I drifted back onto US1 as the craving of caffeine crept up on me. Coffee coffee coffee.

But not just any coffee — a large, french vanilla, lightly-iced coffee from McDonald’s. It’s one of the only things I order via drive-thru, and with this craving heavy on my mind, I knew I needed one.

I pulled into McDonald’s and looked to the right of me, and sitting under a tree, desperate for shade, was a disgruntled, dirty man holding a sign: “Homeless. Disabled. Help.”

His right hand was wrapped tightly in a cast and he was wearing an almost-flat billed, ancient baseball cap. His once-white shirt was stained and grimy and his pants had tiny holes all over.

I inched my car forward, waiting patiently for my turn to tell the woman behind the speaker exactly what I wanted. Something so precise, so definite. I wanted an intricate coffee- not a lot of ice, not a little, but just enough.

But then I rewinded my memory, remembered complaining about something so minuscule, something I could afford, something that was a quick-fix. I looked in my rear-view to find the hopeful, homeless man slouched over his dirty, visible kneecaps.

He was holding his face in his hands as if this was the first time desperation had struck him. I knew it wasn’t. I knew he was tired. I knew he was hungry, alone, scared, confused. I knew he was human and wanted to be treated rightly so. That’s only fair, right? Wrong.

No one seems to care. No one seems to stop and talk. No one seems to want to shake their hand, to understand.

I pulled my shiny, freshly waxed coupe forward to the speaker, wondering if the woman behind the speaker felt the way I did about the homeless, about the injustice, about the issues in our community.

“Go ahead,” she said, muffled and loud over her co-workers voices.

“May I please have one large iced, vanilla coffee- with light ice, please?” I asked very precisely.

“Sure, is that all?” she asked back.

I pushed the hair out of my face as I tilted my sunglasses down to rest on the brim of my nose. I glared in my rear-view mirror for a good 3 seconds, just long enough to see that my homeless, hopeful friend had not moved.

“No ma’am. May I also add a double cheeseburger, please?” I asked politely- I never know what they have to deal with on a day to day basis, but I knew it wasn’t anything like what my hungry, burdened friend in the rear-view had to deal with.

I pulled up to the window, greeted the woman with a smile and thanked her. She was busy and sweet. She was employed.

I didn’t even jab my striped straw into my highly anticipated coffee. I didn’t put the change back into my wallet. I didn’t even turn up the music that I was previously engaged in.

I grabbed an orange out of my purse; one that my step-mom gave, one that was fresh, ripe and looked delicious. I made sure that the double cheese burger was wrapped nicely, that there were napkins to accompany it. I tucked a one-dollar bill in-between the orange and the cheeseburger, folded the top of the bag over itself and drove to the entrance of the McDonald’s parking lot.

I rolled down my window and notioned for the homeless man to come to me. He stared at me, confused as to why this young, red-lipped, blonde was waving for him to venture away from his shaded spot. His brow wrinkled. He leaned forward, steadily positioned each foot in front of the other and began to limp my way.

His sign said “disabled”, and when I saw his cast, I thought “It’ll heal.” But as he began to walk closer and closer to my car, I realized something- it’s not all about what you see. There’s more to his story. There’s more to everyone’s story.

My arm was stretched outside of my window, holding a stranger’s soon-to-be prized possession of a meal.

“Hi, I brought you a double cheeseburger and an orange. There’s also a dollar in there for later, so if no one feeds you tonight, walk back over there and get yourself something to eat.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. He looked at me like I was a goddess of some sort. He looked at me like I was saving his life.

“This is mine?” he curiously asked. It was as if he thought I was pulling a sick practical joke on him.

“Of course it’s yours,” I said. I stuck my hand out toward him, willing and eager to feel his dirty, callous infested palm against mine.

“I’m Eliza.” He squinted his eyes to get a better look at me. His eyes were watery and appeared to be tired.

“Eliza? I’m Johnny.” He reached his left hand toward my right, an awkward hand-shake, yet a much more effective one than I had ever had before. “I would shake with my right hand, but it’s kinda broken,” he half-heartedly joked. But he was right.

Just as I had seen when I was pulling into the parking lot, his right arm was wrapped somewhat compactly into an off-white cast, covered in faded signatures and layered in dirty stains.

“I see that. Well, Johnny, it will heal. I promise you,” I assured him, handing him his dinner.

“Thank you, Eliza,” he said, honest and pure. He hesitantly accepted the bag full of assortments, but when he did, his limp looked a little lighter on the walk back to his spot.

I kept my eye on him until he was out of sight. Even as I drove away, I kept looking back, wanting to see his unshaven, dirty face again. But I didn’t.

And that was it. That was all.

I turned my music back up- grateful that I had something exciting to listen to, something that made me happy. I began to tap my fingers again, but this time, my hand felt different.

My hand felt heavy. My fingers felt rough. My right hand was engulfed in Johnny’s germs and that was just the way I wanted it to stay.

I finally punctured my iced vanilla coffee with it’s long partner of a straw. I was finally, out of guilt, able to enjoy a nice treat as well.

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