I’m hovering awkwardly at the light rail stop.
I’m not even there to ride the light rail. I’m trying to do a man-on-the-street interview for my journalism class. The light rail just passed, and I’m waiting for more people to come in to the station so I can corner them for a good ten or fifteen minutes if I need to.
I wait for two light rails to go by before I talk to anyone, because of Hugo.
He’s walking through the station; a man hands him a bag of chips. He has a dog on a leash, a beautiful golden midsized dog with wide, loving eyes.
He walks past me.
He turns back.
He says, “Hello.”
“Hi,” I say.
“My name is Hugo. I’m from Honduras.”
“I’m here for two months now. I was here before, but they deported me. I came back, but I’m only here for two months. I’m trying to make my way here, but it’s hard, because I don’t have no money, you know?”
“I don’t have nowhere to sleep. And I have to feed myself and her too.” He gestures to his dog.
He’s got eyes like his dog’s, deep and chocolate and honest. A smile just as sincere. I’m nodding and smiling and looking down and apologizing because I don’t know what else to do. “I wish I could do something to help. I don’t even know anywhere I could tell you to go.”
“It’s okay,” he says. “I just have to talk about it. Because otherwise it all stays in my head. And you know, it’s hard. I don’t have anywhere to stay. And I don’t want to go to the shelter.”
“Too many drugs. Too much drugs outside it, on the street, in that area. I don’t want to be around that.”
“I’m trying to get a job, but always the first thing they ask is for ID. So even then, I can’t get a job. I don’t know what to do. And I’m trying to feed her, too.”
I am sorry, but I feel so insincere. How do you answer this? I’m sorry, I’m a white girl spending extortionary amounts of money on college. Oh, I’m sorry you’re struggling. As if I can even understand it. I feel so much. My heart hurts so much. I want to help him so much. He has those eyes that say, “I feel this world so deeply.”
Hugo tells me that he rode on the tops of trains to get here. It’s dangerous, he says; people die, the trains stop and they tumble like water splashing from an overfilled cup.
“But now I’m just struggling to find something to eat. Somewhere to sleep.”
“Why did you come here?”
“For a better life. In my country, I work for just five dollars every day.”
He smiles at me a lot. While he keeps saying he’s just getting by, with nowhere to sleep and nowhere to work, he never asks me for anything. He just keeps telling his story.
The dog’s name is Nadia. She found him, at a light rail stop like this one, and just followed him as he was walking away.
“I called the number on the tag, but no one comes to pick her up. I called and I called. But no one comes to get her.
“I think her owner must ride a bicycle or something, because every time one goes by she wants to chase it.”
As he says this a bicyclist pedals by and he’s right, Nadia yanks against her leash, wildly alert for a moment.
He asks me how old I am; I tell him. “I am so old,” he says. “I have forty now.” He looks younger to me. He says he hopes the light rail security doesn’t get on the train; he doesn’t have enough to pay for a bus ticket.
And then the light rail pulls in, with that unsettling braking sound like screaming, and Hugo smiles at me.
“Thank you for listening to me. Maybe I’ll see you again,” he says.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” I tell him helplessly. He smiles at me, and, dog trotting loyally along beside him, disappears on the train.
I smile and I’m also sad. I felt so much love for him. But I have interviews to get and a story to write about Valley Metro increasing security on the light rail so fewer and fewer people can hitch a ride for free.
I see him again on the light rail a week later.
My heart jumps when I see him. I don’t look like I did that day when he talked to me, in costume tonight for a Halloween party. I’m in the upper tier of seats and he gets on below with his beautiful dog.
And when he meets my eyes, I smile at him and wave, and he smiles too. I wonder if he recognizes me.
“I think he probably does,” my friend tells me. An empty reassurance.
And he meets my eyes again, and I smile again, and this happens two or three times and there is something that connects me so strongly to this man, poor broken hopeful Hugo from Honduras.
Then he gets off, and in my heart I feel that something of me is going with him, lost irretrievably, some unknown chance I did not take that will echo inside me for a very, very long time.