The stranger looked sorely out of place juxtaposed to the sights, sounds and aromas of Santa Lucia, a Christmas festival that filled the large room packed with people before him.
One of the women saw him. She studied him intently and then quickly decided to greet him.
Walking toward the stranger, she noticed his heavy overalls, thin denim jacket and stocking cap had a wooden colorless appearance from dirt and cold. The fingertips of his gloves were worn away. His fingernails were outlined by thick black oily lines.
The man's eyes were fixed on the food table. His high cheekbones stood out under his frozen beard. Icicles formed from his mustache. An odorous halo of not having bathed in days, maybe weeks, hung over him.
As the woman approached the stranger, she tried reading him: well traveled, rugged, cold, hungry, homeless and alone. His eyes, watery from being too long in the frigid outdoors; his stance, timid yet curious.
"Would you like to sit down to have a meal?" she said, wondering if he had ever been above the fray.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied apologetically but without hesitation, as though he were a trespasser in dire need.
Like inconsequential moviegoers passing in front of a giant cinema screen as a feature film rolls behind, the festivities continued unstirred while the woman escorted the uninvited guest to her table. She pulled up a chair, invited him to sit and went to the buffet line to fill his plate.
Eating without a word, he quickly finished his food and was ready to leave. She offered to prepare a plate to send with him. "You will have food for tomorrow."
"No, thank you, ma'am," he replied. "Tomorrow will take care of itself."
A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place national and state awards in The National Federation of Press Women competitions. Most recently, Damon's writing took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 Paula Damon