Out in the rain running errands, I pass a street person shivering in grey sweats, his palms pressed between his knees. I go into the Starbucks next door and buy a big cup of tea, lash it liberally with milk and sugar, and take it out to him. I proffer him the cup. He shakes his head No.
“I don’t drink that,” he says.
Uncertain if he means beverages of that brand or if he thinks it is coffee, I say, “It’s not coffee, it’s tea.” I don’t unbend or retract the cup.
He again shakes his head No. “I don’t drink it.”
Finally, I put the cup down beside him. I say, “Just hold it. It’ll warm up your hands.” He doesn’t move. “Seriously, warm your hands.”
He withdraws one hand from between his knees and feels the cup.
I leave wondering if he doesn’t drink tea or coffee so he doesn’t have to get up to pee, or if he thinks I’ve poisoned him, or offered him the dregs of my own drink, or if he just wants to make the point that he’d rather choose how I spend my money. Or that a big cup of tea will slow him down if he has to move away from the two cops nearby. Or he just doesn’t like Starbucks. His No reminds me of how little I know or understand about the world around me.
When I come to the guy selling The Big Issue, I regret the unwanted tea, shrug and say, “Sorry, no change.”