Pouring rain, a bursting trash bag, and a toothless smile were my rewards for picking up trash in the neighborhood this morning.
In our neighborhood, there is a diminutive, elderly Chinese man who collects cans. He wears dark clothes, a dark cap and always has at least one black garbage sack rattling with cans draped across his shoulder. He walks steadily, head down.
This morning I had my head down, picking up trash and stuffing it into my own garbage sack when I saw him. He had three sacks over his shoulder, and a dark, broken umbrella over his head barely protecting him from the rain.
I watched him for a minute. He walks steadily, head down. Umbrella dripping.
I reached into my garbage sack with my gloved hand and pulled out four cans. Crossing the street, I approached him with the cans outstretched. He stopped and looked at me, then smiled broadly, revealing a nearly toothless mouth. He reached out to accept the cans with gnarled fingers and yellowing nails, the toothless smile still beaming.
I asked if he spoke English. He nodded, still smiling. Silence.
I asked his name. He nodded, still smiling. Silence.
I pointed at myself and said, “Eric”. He nodded, still smiling. Silence.
I nodded, smiled and we parted. As I left, he put down his cans and added mine to his collection, about twenty cents worth. Then he picked up his rattling sacks, his umbrella, and continued on in the rain.
I crossed the street, turned and watched him walk away. Three dark sacks, a dark cap, and a broken umbrella dripping with rain. He walked steadily, head down. I don’t know where he was going.
Pouring rain, a dripping trash bag on my shoulder, I turned and walked the other way.