I was wrapping up my break at the U District terminal. A still night, empty, where each word meant a little more. Marcus tapped on my door just as I opened it.
"Nathan, can I please get on early. It's cold out here and I'm feeling sick, man."
"Oh hey Marcus. Sure thing."
"Thanks." He swaggered in, tall, a brown hooded jacket over another brown hooded jacket, the heavy outdoor gear, big backpack and garbage bags a contrast to his wire-frame spectacles and gruffly companionable self. 'Hey, what do you do for sickness? What's the Asian remedy, Nate? I got to know."
"Uh," I said. "Water's good."
"Cain't do that, makes ya pee."
"You got a cold or something, the flu?"
"I don't know what I got. People coughin',"
"Yeah, you don't know what's goin' around. A number of folks I know got colds, it might just be a bad cold."
"It is. I can't handle it though," he said, in a rare moment of non-masculine frailty. "My body's achin', my legs,"
"That's awful, man! I'm tellin' you, water, it's good for the joints, flushes out the system…"
"Gotta drink a whole lotta that. Hey Nathan, take your time gettin' down there. 'Cause I wanna catch the 1:08 5. Don't wanna sit out there forever."
"Man. I love that! No one tells me to take my time! They're always saying hurry yourself up!"
"I will happily take my sweet time."
"Stop and get a Dick's burger." He reached in his bag and said, "here."
The knit cap still had the price tag on it, and rested-factory-flat in my hand. I took the proffered item, saying, "are you giving me this hat? This thing's brand new!"
He reached in again and handed me a bag of new wool socks.
"Marcus, are you sure? I got socks…."
"That's alright, I got 'em too. I tell you what, pick my bag up."
It was the size of a small child, and weighed more. I hoisted it with a burst of energy. "That's a beast!"
"That's all clothes."
"Marcus, you are hooked up!"
"Yeah, I'm hooked up. And I'm tired. Tired and sick..."
"I'll take the hat."
"Naw, take the socks too."
You serious? Thanks, man! I wish I had food or something tonight,"
"Don't worry 'bout that. I got that too."
He spoke a little more about how important socks can be, how fresh a new pair feels if your shoes are wet. In certain countries the gift of food is important, a given gesture of some size, and you accept it whether you're hungry or not. It means something. You don't turn down that goodwill. I think Marcus knows I already have socks and hats aplenty. He was giving me something larger, more important. Despite his assurances I knew he was in far greater want of clothing than I; but he needed to express his gratitude, and his brusque demeanor didn't allow for that to happen in words. His love spoke through the language of gift-giving, and I wanted him to know I heard him. We carried on at the leisurely pace he specified, my favorite. I left the lights off; just he and I drifting through an abandoned city.
"Merry Christmas," I said after a while. I'd almost forgotten what day it was.
"Merry Christmas," he replied, a softer voice now, distant and pleasant in the land of half-slumber.