A DAMSEL IN DELIGHT
“I bring you glad tidings this morn, my fair maid. You may collect your CIA check from Safeway!”
“Thank you, Xavier.”
He beams at me and bows, clutching at the tie knotted crookedly against his burn-holed sweatshirt. His twig-flecked hair flops over his big smile in limp ribbons. But behind them his eyes shine blue as the morning sky, lit by the same sun that has baked his bony face into leather.
He’s just a scruffy little man pacing up and down outside the homeless shelter. Pointing wildly in all directions. Tugging at the packing twine that holds up all three pairs of his stripy pants. Slapping the sidewalk with bare feet calloused hard as a horse’s hooves.
But in his mind Xavier has mounted an actual snowy steed. His hands are clutching a burnished sword and an unrolled scroll proclaiming glad tidings of great hope. The sun that lights his morning eyes glints off his gleaming suit of armor. He has set out on his mission to rescue fair damsels in distress.
It’s suppertime. This summer we are living on zucchini and potatoes, about the only food items recently donated to the shelter. We dish them up on the food line in the guises of soup and stew and casseroles.
“What we havin’ tonight, Doc?” Max bellows from his place first in line.
“Nothing but the best in this kitchen!” But my supervisor’s heartiness rings a little hollow—for after the final homeless straggler has shuffled out the exit, we community members will dine on the zucchini and potato leftovers.
I feel happy, though. Xavier has opened for me his special world…enabling me to view things through his morning eyes.
Seen all together, the street people parading past the serving window may seem a ragged and wretched lot. But as individuals they shine out colorful as quilt squares, each one unique and beautiful in pattern. Ponderously strolling behind Max with his hippie beads and headband, Charlie’s decked out in his best black Sunday suit and tie. But Trina, whom I’m serving next, might be my twin sister in her faded lumber jacket—her glasses slipping halfway down her nose just like mine and her hair another cloud of frizzed-out tangles. And behind her Susie’s head is shaved completely bald, dyed the same electric blue as Xavier’s gentle gaze….
“Unhand her, varlet!” It’s Xavier himself, his voice now lashing righteous fury. I realize he’s talking about me—for I’ve briefly left the serving window to fetch a fresh pot of zucchini-and-potato stew from Doc. Xavier thinks I’ve been abducted. I brace myself for him to vault straight over the windowsill, to run my supervisor through with his imaginary sword. But instead he’s heading outside for the phone booth on the corner….
“Who called the cops?” several people ask about fifteen minutes later.
“Xavier again. Who else?” Doc shakes his head and rolls his eyes. It’s the third time this week he’s had to barrel out the kitchen and inform them of another false alarm.
“How are you faring, my dear maiden?” Xavier’s voice comes gentle once again as his blue eyes anxiously meet mine through the serving window.
“I’m fine, Xavier. Thank you for rescuing me!”
I’m smiling now, remembering his courtly parting bow. Spooning up my mash of potatoes and zucchini, I feel it sliding down my throat with the sweetness of ambrosia. I may have never been in any real distress. And Xavier may be just another scruffy homeless man, lost in his dream world whenever he forgets to take his Stelazine. But cherished by my friend I’ve become a damsel in delight…and viewed through my morning eyes he’s become my hero.
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