I’m not sure when I first met Juan.
It was sometime just before Christmas. I remember it was hot outside. With the temperature around 80, I wasn’t use to sweating while watching Christmas trees being sold.
Over the next few months, I would run into him almost daily. He didn’t speak English and my Spanish isn’t good at all; somehow we managed to communicate though.
If I had an extra cigarette I’d give him one and if he had an extra he’d hand it to me.
We’d “talk” for a few minutes with more gestures than words and I’d be on my way.
I was able to figure out that Juan was homeless though. I think that accidentally discovering his sleeping spot outside of a bank was what finally clued me in.
One morning in January as I was making my usual rounds, I passed Juan who was standing with a woman.
Appearances seemed to tell me that she was homeless also. I also guessed that she was probably Juan’s girlfriend.
I pointed to them then to the camera asking if I could take a photo. Juan smiled and nodded and confirmed my guess about the identity of the lady when he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and smiled.
A few days later I stopped at the locutorio and got a cheap printout of the photo and stuck it in my gear bag.
I didn’t see Juan again for several days, but when I did I gave him the picture.
While he smiled, nodded and said “gracias” a thousand times, we shared another cigarette.
As the weeks went by I’d see Juan often on my early morning stroll around the streets of Belgrano.
Our pattern didn’t change much. We’d smile, “talk” a few minutes and I’d be on my way.
This morning as I was out for my stroll, I passed Juan’s bedroom at the corner bank and there were two cops and an ambulance. They had someone on a stretcher covered head to ankles with a blanket. I recognized the shoes as belonging to my friend Juan.
He had died on the street last night and he was being taken away.
All of his possessions were in a plastic sack where they had found him. On top was a photo of someone so I picked it up. It was the picture I had taken of Juan and his lady friend.
Scrawled across it were the words “Dios te bendiga Jerry”.