homeless in the student center

There is an old homeless man who spends his days in the UBC student center. He sits in the armchair next to the vending machines, just to your left as you enter by one of the secondary doors, the one that leads into the study lounge with all the enormous green tables. Sometimes there are students sleeping on the grubby couches in that room, coats or scarves draped over their faces to block out the winter sun streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The homeless man rarely sleeps in his armchair; I see him narrowing his eyes patiently against the sun, crinkling the millions of fine dry wrinkles around his tired sockets, but never sleeping. His body, thick with age and the onion-layers of many faded jackets, fills the armchair completely. The corners are stuffed with limp newspapers which he reads intermittently. A bundle of belongings and a garbage bag full of returnables sag against the sides of the chair.

Sometimes, he abandons his post: to use the bathroom? To search for bottles? To collect more newspapers? To go for a walk? The armchair bears the impression of his tired weight. His bundles flank the empty chair, awaiting his return.

This morning I sat at one of the green tables, reading a paper for my fish class. The old man sat in his armchair, soaking up the winter light, reading an incomplete copy of the Vancouver Sun. Just as I was leaving, a young male student came in the door and greeted the old man enthusiastically. The student gestured that he would return, and briskly strode off into the cafeteria; minutes later, he returned with two grande Starbucks cups, and pulled up a chair next to the old man. As I left to go to class, they were talking happily, the student perched on the edge of his chair and waving his coffee cup around for emphasis, the old man smiling and holding his coffee cup peacefully on the arm of his chair.

I wonder if this happens frequently. I’ve never seen them together before, and I’m in the student center almost every morning to get coffee. It was – not to be cheesy, but really – a beautiful moment.

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