In my own novel The Boy with a Torn Hat the central character is a mediocre artist who cannot understand why his paintings fail, until the wisdom of a street busker sets him straight: the song is always more important than the singer.
And so I truly appreciate Katy Keim’s ability to include herself in the life of her story without having to be its heroine, where what she observes outweighs her part as a participant. Ironically, what she portrays in her finalist entry is not what she witnesses on the street, but what is in her heart: the capacity to feel for others. Get out the hankies…
By Katy Keim
It had been a long day. My family was in Washington DC and it was getting late. We were out for a walk.
Homeless people dressed in atrociously torn clothing lined the sorry streets, begging for anything people would give.
I suddenly felt lucky to have led such a privileged life. I wanted to help them. I had some coins in my pocket… maybe…?
A starved young boy, no older than eight years old, and his dog slouched against a brick wall. The dog shrunk farther into its owner’s lap, who had a baseball old cap draped over his eyes. He was holding a sign in his grubby little hands that read “Anything helps.”
Pity lurched in my gut. As I pulled out my spare change- four quarters-, a crowd of foot traffic suddenly swept me away. I tried to fight them, but I was losing sight of my family. I turned around when the traffic cleared. The boy and his dog were still there. The need to help them gnawed at me.
Everything instantly froze when I saw the grubbiest, sad-looking homeless man sitting across from the boy reach to the jar by his knee, containing only pennies and a few bills. I watched, stunned, as the old man turned the cup upside down in his palm, emptying its contents. As the homeless man dropped the money into the boy’s open hand, the dog suddenly sat up. It nudged its owner awake, who saw the money in his hand and dropped the sign. He embraced the man in an enormous hug, tears streaming down his cheeks. Gratitude welled in my heart.
I never thought that a man with so little could have so much kindness.
I was wrong.