The brown burlap bag had a used bright red ribbon attached to it with a bent paper clip. I realized it was a Christmas present for me. The street-person, the homeless man, the bum, as my dad used to call them, handed it to me with a big smile. We had a relationship—of sorts.
I have a small used book store and information research business just outside Washington D.C. A few times a week I’d take a morning commuter bus into the city to do some research at the Library of Congress. Not everything is out on the net yet.
I’d get off the bus across from the library and Tom would be there waiting for handouts. He was always neat, clean, and reasonably presentable considering his circumstances. I always felt he was ex-military from some war. I made it a habit to give him all my change every time I saw him.
This went on for a couple of years. We never spoke or did anything more than nod to each other until about two weeks ago. Then, as I handed him my change, he stuck it quickly into his pocket, held out his hand for me to shake, and spoke with a rarely used gravely sounding voice.
“My name is Tom,” he said as I took his hand to shake.
Laughing, I said, “So is mine.”
Letting go of his hand, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to him.
“Thomas Church,” I said. “A pleasure to meet you, Tom.”
He took the card, stared at it for a long moment, and muttered, “book dealer huh?”
“Yes, I said, “used books and also a researcher.”
He studied me for a moment then said, “I believe I’ll be moving on soon, leaving this city behind right after Christmas. I just wanted to thank you for your kindness over these last few years.”
“It’s not necessary,” I replied, “God blesses us all whatever our circumstance in life.”
He nodded, turned, and walked away. I didn’t think I’d see him again.
Two weeks later, just days before Christmas, I rode into the city again. Business was slow and I had one last research task to complete before shutting down for the holidays. That was when Tom was waiting for me with his burlap wrapped gift. He handed it to me, nodded, and again walked away.
“Merry Christmas,” I said. He waved over his shoulder without turning around.
I crossed to the library, finished my research, and grabbed the commuter bus home just as a huge snow storm was filling the roads with mounds of snow.
At home, I placed Tom’s gift under my tree. Christmas morning came; I made coffee, and opened the brown burlap gift taking out the book inside. It was a hard cover novel complete with paper dust cover and in pristine new shape. It was titled, The Fallen Archangel, and it was signed.
It read: To Thomas Church in gratitude for your kindness and generosity from your homeless friend Thomas C. Watson, Author, Christmas 2000, Washington D. C.”
The name rang a faint bell. I jumped over to the computer, did a quick search, and found it had been a best seller nearly 30 years ago. Thomas was famous and had disappeared never to write another book again.
I carried the book back to the table, sat down, and began reading.
Three days later the police showed up at my door. It seemed Tom had been sick from some old war wounds that had become infected and he’d died in the snow and cold.
They handed me another brown burlap bag and a piece of paper. “It’s his will,” they said. “Your card was stapled to it. He left you this bag.”
The note read: “God does bless us all. I want to bless your kindness to me with this additional gift.”
Inside the bag were three unpublished novels. They would probably bring a fortune from publishers today.
I thanked the police, poured myself a cup of coffee, and began reading again. When I finished, I sat back and thought.
The novels all hit the best seller list. The Thomas Watson Homeless Center opened on Christmas day this year and a library of the same name opened next door. They are just a short walk from the Library of Congress.
I can see his name every time I get off the commuter bus.
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