Washington is one of the stations where folks set up and play music, asking for tips while people wait for the train. Two men were there, both singing, one of them playing keyboard. There was a simple drum beat playing, preprogrammed and soft. They were improvising, but they worked well together. "It's a brand new day," they sang, and, "Na-na-na, na-na-na, na-na-na na na-na-na."
I had a quarter in my pocket and I knew it; I had spent my last dollar earlier in the pop machine, and I always wait for the change. I didn't give them the quarter because it seemed too daunting, digging it from my pocket, pushing past people to reach them, dropping it in the styrofoam container attached to the keyboard. And I could see the train, and it was close. I felt better and worse and the same time as the train pulled close and they said, "Thank you folks for listening, and y'all have a safe trip."
On the train, Blind Man came through. I saw him on the red line once or twice a week, but I'd never given him any money. A man closer to him than me dug the change out of his pocket, counted it in his hand, and stepped forward to drop it in Blind Man's cup. "God bless you," Blind Man told him.
I got my quarter out and stood ready. As Blind Man passed I reached forward and dropped my quarter in his cup. Just as I dropped it Blind Man stopped to shake his cup. I don't think he heard my quarter hit because he didn't say, "God bless you." I hadn't been waiting to hear that, and I don't give out change to make myself feel good--or, I don't think I do--but I wonder if if still matters to him that I gave him a quarter if he didn't hear it drop.
The quarter might disappear if he doesn't hear it, or it might turn into wood. God might not bless me, and Blind Man might think resentfully of the people he passes who don't give.