An Encounter With Mr. Josh Harris

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Three years and change of seasons has not dampened the event of going to the Sentry superstore – if not anything, the darshan of Mr. Josh Harris. His features were unmistakable. The polythene chunks of baggage on the sidewalk, the uneven whiskers on his face, the small hunch and lips that show signs of chain smoking. His favorite spot was the entry door of Sentry where he surprised outgoing customers for change? and they could not deny his request because they would have a difficult time explaining how they spent all the money on weekend groceries if they didn’t have any cash.

While he was not busy asking for change,  he spent time appreciating the rhythms of an anonymous blues street singer cooing his favorite ‘Muddy Water’ tunes in a small niche created by a bike stand nearby. People who stood in queue to buy tickets at the nearby theatre followed the rhythm with a casual tap-tap. It was as if there was an invisible orchestra going on with all the actors playing their part. A nearby ‘Lixx’ frozen custard shop was a popular teenager hangout, where some Hispanic teenagers where doing an extempore Salsa to the rhythm. It was this weird fusion of nationalities and tastes that made this place both entertaining and amusing.

That day, as I was pushing myself out of the Sentry, Mr. Josh’s gaze fell on me. I had the trick of putting my head down and walking as if I did not hear him. But this time it didn’t work.

‘You sir. I’m calling you.’

‘Me.’ I stood there as if ignorant of the whole situation.

‘Yey. Some change for the bus Sir?’ He asked. 

I lowered my large brown bags on the side-walk and searched my wallet for some change. This was the face of a man that I had seen almost every weekend for three years now and never had a conversation with.

‘Thank-you sir, you have a good day now.’ He said.

As I lifted my bags, curiosity took the better of me and I asked him ‘Which bus are you catching.’

‘Home.  Ya know what I mean?’ he said.

I wanted to leave him at his dignity but something held me back.

‘OK, and what’s your name.’

‘Ah. Josh. Josh Harris man.’ He muttered.

He didn’t look much keen on continuing the conversation as his eyes were preying on other departing Sentry customers. I bid him farewell and carried on, but as I kept walking home I wondered whether he really had a ‘home.’ I had never seen him move away from that spot except for winter where I saw him take refuge at the entry of a ‘Thank God for Jesus’ church.

"" While he was not busy asking for change,  he spent time appreciating the rhythms of an anonymous blues street singer….""

The next time I went to Sentry, it was being closed ? along with the theatre that housed the same building. It was a small tragedy for me because as a typical graduate student, the Sentry had become a foster mother to me. I remember the first time when I had wandered here among canned food and frozen vegetables and when cooking was something unfamiliar. Back home I was spoilt with the typical adoration of mothers  where dinner was brought to where I lay. Clueless, I had started with a steady diet of ‘Ramen’ noodles and then graduated to ‘ Burritos’ in a year. Now, I was trying recipes that I had not heard before ? Mediterranean to Chinese everything was do-able, but it was the fusion of Indian spices that made it interesting. Today I wondered what had changed for Mr.  Josh Harris in these three years. As far as I know, the Sentry was not only his foster mother, it was his family, home and everything and now it was shutting down right under his eyes.

I never saw Mr. Josh Harris again. I could imagine how his life must have been uprooted ? and snatched from his sense of belonging. But in the evening as I took a bus to the downtown I spotted Mr. Josh Harris walking in an older neighborhood with his typical hunch and the array of polythene bags. As the bus turned around, I saw him clean shaved and primmer than I had ever seen him before. Perhaps, he must have found a newer and more fruitful place.  As I kept looking out of the rear window of my bus I saw him walking with a spring on his feet. He was coming out of ‘Mama Deltas Love House,’ perhaps by trading all his Sentry savings for a home, even if it were for an hour, for a smile on his face and a whole lot of loving.

Author: Newton Dsouza- USA

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