One cold day in December many years ago, Eric, who at that time was a young man feeling old and world-weary (in the way that many young men feel at some point when life disappoints them for the first time) – stood alone and shivering with cold outside the front door of the house that he was renovating in Montreal, as he closed up the building for the day. He had told the workers in his building company to go home early; at -20 degrees, it was too cold to work outside.
As he was locking the door, he was surprised to feel a tap on his shoulder and his name called in a voice that sounded vaguely familiar:
“Eric! Would ya like to buy me a big beer!?”
He turned around. There stood an old man whose face had become quite familiar to him over the past few weeks. He knew the name of the man: it was Eugene, and he had until very recently been occupying a room of the very house that Eric was being paid to renovate – an abandoned building, lived in only by this old man who had no other home, and lived by begging on the streets in that area.
In just one room of that house he had made a place for himself, gathering all this things there, and using it as a shelter from the cold, probably thinking himself very lucky to have such a good roof over his head. Out of compassion for him, Eric had done his best to disturb him as little as possible while they were doing the renovations; they worked in every other room apart from his one, until finally they could not wait any longer, and every week they began to say when they saw him, “Eugene… you know it will be time soon to go…?”
Now, as of a short time, Eugene was living in a flat that the social services had found for him a short bus ride away, but he still got the bus every morning to come and sit as his old begging spots, as though he were commuting to work.
And here he was, tapping Eric on the back as though he was his old friend, with no hint of a sign of resentment towards him for taking away what had been his home, looking at Eric with the smile of somebody who had nothing to fear and nothing to hide. “A BIG beer!” he grinned. “How about it?”
Eric smiled. “No, Eugene, sorry I can’t buy you a beer. How about I buy you a coffee instead?”
They went to a coffee shop around the corner, chosen by Eugene. At the door, they were stopped by a grumpy employee: “He’s not allowed in here, that guy,” she said, gesturing at Eugene.
“He’s my guest, okay?” said Eric.
She grumbled to herself, but stood aside and let them in. Eugene took a seat by the window while Eric bought coffee for them both, and then they sat together drinking coffee in silence.
Eric couldn’t stop looking at the face of the man: it was extraordinary, he thought to himself. The face of the man was literally, as he put it, “shining with joy.”
“He’s happy,” he thought, “And I’m not.”
“He’s happy – and I’m not.”
“He’s happy – and I’m not?”