Julia first saw the man one morning on her way to work. Absorbed in her own thoughts as she traveled the familiar route off the bus and down the escalator to the subway station to get her train, she almost missed the scruffy character who sat propped up against the wall of the station, behind the crowds who waited impatiently for their train to arrive.
The man himself was unremarkable. Faded and frayed jean jacket, dirty jeans, and a grey T-shirt. Stringy brown hair lay limply to his shoulders. He needed a shave. The commuters on the whole ignored him, but for the few who were forced to step over his outstretched legs when the crowd backed them closer to the wall. These would glance down in irritation at him, lips thinning in disapproval. He sat unconcerned, ignoring the silent rebukes.
Julia would have passed by without too much notice as well, except for the sign. Propped up beside the man, the crude cardboard square held only one word, black letters surprisingly neat: WHY? Beside the sign, a few coins littered the ground.
Her train arrived, and she got on. He was out of her thoughts before the next station.
The next day he was there again, enigmatic sign in place. And the next day. The fourth day, Julia looked for him. This philosophical vagrant had aroused her curiosity. As she approached the boarding platform, she saw that something new had been added to the sign. It was a newsprint picture of a child in threadbare clothing, barefoot and crying. Julia recognized the picture; she had seen it herself in yesterday’s paper, accompanying a feature piece on the ravages of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. A bigger pile of coins lay nearby.
The next day the WHY? was accompanied by a picture of a car wreck, with the headline “Drunk Driver Kills Two.” That night Julia began to pray for the man. He was increasingly on her heart, and she was beginning to think that God wanted her to speak to him.
The following day, newfound resolve in place, she arrived at the station with a prayer on her lips. She was startled, however by the new picture. It was colour, this time, graphic. It showed in detail small body parts, bloody and torn. The caption read:
“Abortion: 12 weeks gestation.” The stark “WHY?” followed boldly. No coins this time.
Nor was the crowd offering polite dismissal. People shifted and muttered, leaving a wide berth around the man, who seemed unperturbed, as always. Two women spoke animatedly together, stabbing angry glances at him. Julia did not want to draw attention to herself by speaking to the man now. She hurried onto the train, and spent the rest of the day feeling guilty.
After a long time of prayer that night, Julia found new resolve. She would speak to the man tomorrow. She wasn’t sure what to say, but prepared in her mind a short talk on how God works all things for good, and that He wants only the best for us. She even looked up some Scriptures, which she marked in her pocket New Testament.
She made sure that she was early again the next day. The picture this time was that of the huge pile of drugs captured in a police raid the day before. Gathering her courage, she walked up to the man and crouched down. She received a shock when his eyes met hers. It was odd. She felt like she knew him.
He listened politely as she fumbled through her prepared speech. As her words trailed off, he stood, and she for a moment she thought he was going to walk away. But he waited as she stood as well, and regarded her somberly.
“What you say is true, but I am asking a different question.” He smiled, and then sighed. “I had to get your attention somehow. You see, this is what I really want to know.” He paused, searching Julia’s eyes.
" Why are you not angry?”
He placed his hand on her shoulder. Startled, she glanced down at it and then gaped at him, dumbfounded, as he continued.
“Wake up, child. There’s work to be done.” His hand fell, and he turned away.
Julia could only stand and watch, heart hammering, as he faded into the crowd. Her shocked thoughts swirled around one detail: the small, round scar she had seen on his wrist.
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