87: The Prince and the Pauper

87: The Prince and the Pauper

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

The Prince and the Pauper

Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight.

~Traci Lea LaRussa

There used to be a homeless man in New York City whom I would see from time to time. He was an icon. Sooner or later, if you were a New Yorker you’d run into him. He was humongous and frightening, wearing a heavy green, woolen blanket-like poncho, rain or shine. His long unkempt hair covered his head and face. His dark deep-set eyes would peer out from under his dense eyebrows.

He’d sit on various street corners in midtown Manhattan with a cup for money in front of him and a box of pencils he’d hope to sell. I was twenty-something, a fearless New York girl. Not much scared me but the truth is, whenever I saw this man shivers ran up my spine. If I turned the corner and there he unexpectedly appeared it was definitely a shock to my system.

So when I almost ran into him in the subway station as I waited for my train late one night, it gave my heart a start. I was used to riding the subway, since I worked in New York City and lived in Queens, but this night I had gone out with some friends and it was later than usual — after midnight.

The station was deserted but for the two of us and another man. The homeless man sat on one bench and I purposely sat down on one some distance away, next to the other man, who was extremely attractive and immaculately dressed.

“Movie star quality,” went through my mind.

At first we sat in silence. Then the handsome stranger turned to me and smiled. As appealing as he was I was not about to get friendly with someone in a subway so late at night. I stared ahead.

He was not to be deterred.

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in the subway so late, sweetie?”

Ugh. How I hated when someone called me that. Especially a man I didn’t know. It was rude and demeaning. I mumbled something noncommittal and opened a book, pretending to read. But I was getting nervous. I noticed the homeless man moving closer to us.

Oh, great, I thought, sardonically. I have the Prince and the Pauper to contend with. My nicknames for them amused me.

The train pulled in at last, to my relief.

As luck would have it, all three of us headed for the closest door — the door of the second car. There was no one else in this car. I stood up against a window holding onto the strap. The so-called Prince Charming came and stood ominously close to me, staring, giving me a creepy feeling. The Pauper sat down opposite us, occupying two full seats with his enormous frame.

I would have left but the train had already started so I made the decision to change cars. Anything to get away from the uncomfortable situation.

The doors between the subways cars were heavy and extremely hard to open and to shut, but like I said, I was a New York girl and had done it countless times. Trying not to give my two bizarre companions any warning, I charged for the door and pulled it sharply open. Stepping through it, as I struggled to shut it behind me I felt a powerful shove. It was the good-looking one. I don’t know if it was intentional or accidental but I thought he was attempting to push me off the moving train onto the tracks between the two cars as he pulled my purse off my shoulder. I gave a scream and held on to the door handle real tight, but one of my feet was already hanging in mid-air. One shoe dropped to the tracks and I was losing my balance. The Prince took off into the first car with my purse, leaving me dangling. The Pauper suddenly appeared, grabbing my arm and pulling me to safety. I regained my balance but not my composure. At least not right away.

I ran back to the second car and sat down gasping. The two men had run off into the first car. I watched through the doors as the homeless man fought the other man for my purse.

Let them have it, I thought, still shaken. It’s only a purse. At least I’m safe.

Then the homeless man did something that surprised me. He opened the door to my car and threw the purse in my direction. Then he disappeared into the first car.

I had my purse but more importantly my life. And if I could get off this train I knew I would be fine.

It was an express train so there were no more stops before mine. I sat there trembling for a few more terrifying minutes, which seemed like hours. Then I noticed someone coming through the doors in my direction. I panicked when I saw it was the Prince. But he was accompanied by two men in police uniforms and he was handcuffed.

One of the policemen approached me. “Did this guy bother you? We’ve been tracking him for weeks. He’s been bothering women and snatching purses. I see you have yours. We finally nabbed him.”

The train came to a stop and we all got off. One of the policemen walked off with the handcuffed thief as I explained to the other officer what had occurred. I had my purse so I guess maybe a real crime had not been committed but he took some notes and I promised to come to the police station in the morning to file a report.

“Oh, by the way,” I inquired. “What happened to the other man?”

“What other man?” The policeman looked puzzled. “There was no one else.”

“But there must have been. The man who pulled me to safety. He saved me from falling off the train and then he returned my purse. He ran into the first car after the other guy.”

“There was no one else in the first car except this loser,” the policeman repeated.

Bewildered as I was, considering what had happened, I was grateful that this horrible night had ended safely.

In the coming years I would still see the homeless man dressed in the green blanket–like cape or poncho, sitting on various street corners in the city. I tried approaching him a couple of times to thank him for probably saving my life and for returning my purse. My attempts to talk to him were returned with a blank stare. I even dropped a note into his cup expressing my gratitude. And of course at any opportunity I would drop a few dollars into his cup. His intimidating appearance no longer frightened me. I learned not to make judgments based on people’s looks. I also realized that angels came in many forms.

~Eva Carter

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