The Men who Live in the Woods

Several weeks ago I met two men, Jose and Tony. They are both from Mexico and came up from Orlando with the promise of work. I met them behind the car wash when I was looking for information about Hilario. Tony is a friendly guy with a ready smile, he does most of the talking. He understands english but doesn’t speak it too well. His friend, Jose, is a tiny guy who doesn’t look up much and rarely speaks.

I have encountered them several times in the past few weeks and once, over at Ellen’s office, we watched a little tv together and Tony talked a little about himself. He said he had been working, but when the season dried up, so did the work. I asked him where he lived and he told me, “just up this street a ways.” Ellen was able to help his friend with his food stamps and Tony was very appreciative. He hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and said, “you two are very nice ladies. I won’t forget you.
The next time I saw them was at the food pantry. A couple of days later a woman told me a man had come up to her and handed her some money to give to the pie lady.. He gave her $1.80 in change. That man was Tony. It was all the money he had, but he told her he wanted to help others who might have less.
Last week Tony and Jose came to the food pantry again. They were drenched to the bone and most of the food was gone, but they knelt on the floor and went through the remaining boxes, asking each time they found a peach or a single yogurt if they could have it.

Today at the food pantry, it rained cats and dogs.As we leaving, along came Tony and Jose. They were soaked again. And Tony had a large gash over his left eye, which was bloodshot and dark underneath. I asked him what happened and he said he had fallen. Jose was especially quiet today.
I had heard that they were living not in a house down the road, but in the woods behind the laundromat. I gave them what little I had left and then I told them that Miss Debra had offered them a place to shower if they were interested. They were. We walked down the road to Debra’s house, she never batted an eye. I said, “Debra they don’t speak much english. do you know Spanish?” In her own inimitable style she said to them, “Come on in baby and let’s get you clean.” then she turned to me with a smile and said, “There go my Spanish, Miss Lea.”

Later I saw them walking past the pie shop. Tony had a nice pair of khaki pants and plaid shirt, Jose was quite cleaned up, too. Miss Debra, they said not only let them get cleaned up, she fed them a hot meal and told them they could come back any time.
I asked Tony again about his eye. He said some guys came up to him in the woods one night and started kicking him, “I don’t like no stinkin Mexicans,” the attacker said as he continued to beat Tony.

Tony said, “I didn’t do nothing to him, he just said he didn’t like Mexicans and this is what he did,” pointing to his eye.
I gave them some cold drinks and Tony left me with a smile, a hug and kiss on the cheek.

But Tony did not leave me as I watched him walk up Main Street. His kind face has stayed with me, his swollen eye, his new khaki pants and plaid shirt. His arms polka-dotted everywhere from the bug bites. The thought of Tony and Jose cowering in the woods, under the rain, the heat and the fear, I just haven’t been able to shake it.

I called Debra and I thanked her for what she did. It was so much more than I could do. And she said she fried them up a bunch of pork chops,a mess of corn and some biscuits. “It wadn’t nothin, Miss Lea,” she said. “I just did what little I could do.”
But it was a lot and I told her that and she told me she was inspired by me, but I said, “Debra you have warmed my heart today. You went above and beyond to help two men you did not know. You showed them kindness and compassion and you showed me how much someone can care.”

Her response, “It wadn’t nothin, Miss Lea.”

BUt it was something. It was one totally random act of kindness that put into action what a true Samaritan is. Someone who can put aside their fears, felt pure empathy with another human and reacted with compassion in its purest form.

I am a richer woman for having witnessed this today.

And as for Tony and Jose? They are still on my mind. Tomorrow, we figure out how to get them out of the woods and home.