“You reek of poverty”
The old man quietly says. The recipient of the statement, a teenager, probably not older than seventeen, shifts his gaze from his new iPhone 8 and stares blankly at the old man.
“Pardon?” The young man asks confusingly as he realises the old man wasn’t thinking out loud but was talking to him. The old man, now content that he has the full attention of his one person audience forms deep wavy valleys around his eyes as he smirks.
“No,” he coughs abruptly then continues, “I said you reek of poverty.” the young man’s face easily reveal that he is confused like a white rhino encountering a hunter for the first time. His thoughts race from, “What are you saying” to “You’re crazy” to just a desire to burst out laughing at the old man. However, he decides on the rational thought..
“What do you mean I’m poor?” he asks, slowly waving his iPhone to emphasise the absurdity of the statement. This is the first time the old man sees him, how can he judge so quickly. The old man on the other hand, has no change of expression, as if he expected the boy’s reaction.
“What does it mean to be poor?” He asks. The young man, taken aback by the question stutters a bit as realisation dawns on him that this might be a life lesson. He immediately becomes defensive and once again, the expressions on his face give away every emotion and thought that go through his head. The old man on the other hand, patiently watches him, waiting for an answer.
“Well, what does it mean to be poor to you?” The young man shoots back, now clearly annoyed.
“You are poor.” Comes the reply. A laugh of bewilderment involuntarily escapes the young man’s mouth. He abruptly stops at the peak of the laugh when he notices that he did not even entice a reaction from the old man.
“What do you mean I’m poor?” He asks calmly, now more curious at the thoughts occurring behind the old poker face that is intensely staring at him. “I have everything, my parents buy me whatever I want and I’ll never go to bed hungry. How does that make me poor?”
“Youth is such a precious gift. What a waste to give it to the young.”
The old man mumbles under his breath as his gaze shifts to the paved ground below them. The young man does not hear his statement. His face finally displays an emotion. The young man intently focuses on him, seeing hints of regret in his old faint eyes and the contemplative thoughts sketched into his flaked wrinkles. A minute passes before the old man looks up at the young man again. He coughs into his thin dry hands before speaking.
“And what have you done with what you have?”
“You say you have everything. Where is your proof?”
“Well, have you seen my iPhone? Just got it last week,” the young man smiles in pride, “I’m the only one in my school that has one.”
“That’s the problem,” the old man shakes his head. “Your identity is in the things you have and the things you have have an expiry date, you don’t.”
The young man is speechless. He stutters for a few moments as he tries to defend himself.
“My identity is not in what I have. You asked if I was poor, I’m not poor. I’ve never experienced poverty. I have everything I want.”
“Poverty is not about whether you have enough things or not; poverty is a mindset, it is determined by whether you know that you are enough or not.”
“I’m not in poverty.”
“What’s the difference between you and a homeless man?” The old man asks calmly, unmoved by the young man’s defensiveness.
“He has no house or proper clothes and I think they go to bed hungry.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point?” The old man asks, his right hand now stroking his short white beard. “My point, my boy, is that you need to change the way you think.”
The young man is clearly unimpressed by the response. He shifts his focus back to his phone. The old man puts back his poker face and turns his face towards the road. A few minutes of silence pass before the young man puts his phone into his pocket then faces the old man again. His clearly frustrated.
“How do I change my mindset?” He asks quietly, a look of defeat washing over his face. The old man smiles knowingly, knowing that the walls have been torn down. He clears his throat
“Have you heard of Jesus.”
“Yes, I’m a Christian.”
“Do you know He was homeless?”
“Did you know the only thing he had was the clothes He wore?”
“Then how did He buy food? Where did He sleep? Why didn’t He work? What is your point?”
“For someone who claims to be a Christian, you sure don’t know your Christ!”
“What’s your point?”
“Jesus didn’t need anything because He was complete in Himself.”
“You’re speaking in riddles.”
“I’m speaking as plainly as I can son. You are not listening. Let go of what you know in order to attain that which you need.”
“And what’s that?”
“And where do I get this wholeness.”
“From the homeless, jobless, thingless person you claim to follow.”
“But I go to church every Sunday.”
“I go to the store every Saturday.”
“What’s your point?”
“I get to the store, I get what I want and I leave. Yet I’ve never invested in that store because I don’t see any need to.” As the old man finishes speaking, the bus arrives. He steadily gets up, picks up his two plastic bags and takes a few steps to the opening door.
“You are not making sense, ” the young man says as the old man boards the bus. Right before the doors close; the old man turns around, looks lovingly at the young man and gently says with a smile.
“Learn to sit in an empty room and realize that the room is full. Only then will you understand that you are enough.”
The bus slowly took off, leaving the young man standing there as he realises that he was waiting for the bus as well.