I can’t help him. I wish I could, but I can’t help him.
He walks the streets in thread-bare clothing that he, himself, has made thread-bare. When he is given new clothes he spends all his time ripping them and tearing them until they provide barely any modesty. He is usually without a shirt and rarely wears shoes. I cannot help him.
A coin provides him hours and hours of fascination. He kneels at the curb or on a sidewalk and picks up the coin, then tosses it down to the street again. Then he “discovers” a coin on the street and the process repeats itself for hours on end. He needs help from someone.
His hair gets very long and filthy until someone, I don’t know who, gives him a haircut. At one point last summer his hair reached to his hips. His frame is prisoner-of-war-camp thin; his skin is dark from the sun and often darker from caked-on dirt. Clearly he is disturbed. But he is friendly and says “hello”…always. I wish I could snap my fingers and help him.
Others have tried to help him. Whenever he is “taken away”, something that seems to occur two or three times per year, he returns to the streets a week later clean, shorn, and with new clothes that he immediately makes into his own special brand of rags. He clearly should be on medication; perhaps he is but does not take it.
Someone, at some point in the past, helped him: He has a home. It is a two-room house just down the street from us. He has set it afire three times in the three years we have lived here. He collects old newspapers and fills his house with them…until he sets them on fire. I can tell when he has walked past our house as there is a telltale trail of old newspapers along the sidewalk. One time I made him clean up the newspapers. He did so cheerfully. That wasn’t any help to him.
One day I was walking past Starbucks on a busy boulevard in my town and saw two policemen trying to coax someone up off the street. It was him. He was sitting on the street, three or four coins beside him. The police didn’t help him.
I wish I had the magic. I wish I could close my eyes and command his scrambled brains to be unscrambled again. But I cannot help him.
Today, on my daily run, I passed him on our street. As he saw me running toward him he bent over and did a little jig as I passed him. “Hello”, he said in perfect English. “Buenos Dias”, I said in return.
I’ll never be able to help him.