Heís been my friend for almost six years. He rides around on his bike, appearing from nowhere, just materializing and working, smiling a semi-toothless grin. He cycles everywhere, and always has a warm hello and friendly wave. He reminds me when his birthday comes up, and I always make sure to bake him a cake. He loves eating home cooked food, and is always excited when thereís a to-go plate for him.

    He never asks for money, preferring to work for his cash. And work he does. He cleans yards, chopping and clearing lots, raking, fixing fans, doing odd jobs, anything he can get his hands on, for a little cash here and there. You can rely on him to bring a bunch of medicinal herbs hard to come by otherwise. Heís just one of those people that, over the years, you come to rely on.

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    And now, heís dying.

    His body is riddled with disease. All those days I hadnít seen him around, he was in hospital, being told his days were numbered. How lonely that life must be. How quickly we pat ourselves on the back, reassuring ourselves that, Ďwell, I gave him food, I hired him, and I did my part.í But really, is that enough?

    A very good friend told me that hearing the story of Dale made her equate it to strays. Sheís right. Everyone cries about a stray dog that is so thin and hungry and helpless, but our very own people go through tough times too, yet, where are the organizations that raise awareness and funds for their care?

    The point is, my friend wants to go home. He came by and told me that he was looking to leave the country, trying to go home and maybe pass his last days with his family. In the six years I knew him, I didnít know he was from anywhere else but Belize. I didnít know he even had a family in Nicaragua, but I could see his pride in making his life his own in a foreign country, befriending strangers and living his days knowing that he earned his living honestly. Of course he should want to leave and be with family.

    As Iíve often told anyone whoíll listen, I donít care what happened in his former life, what circumstances led him to his current lifestyle. The point is that another human being is suffering, and there are far too many of them around. Iíve heard of so many others who are abused, ignored, cast aside, and forgotten Ė by family, friends, society. Just because they have a different lifestyle and made some errant choices does not mean we can afford to forget our people. If we can organize and rally hordes of people to spend, spend, spend on dogs, cats and trees and more, why canít we think about doing our bit to help such cases?

    My friend is leaving this life, and (he hopes) this place. Iíll miss how he would pop up occasionally, sniffing the air and asking if Iíd cooked, looking only for a plate of food. Heíll no longer show up with a machete and file, looking for a yard, asking for nothing more than a bit to eat, some cold water, and a little pocket change. In some ways, he was probably a better friend than most we ever get in our lifetime Ė giving their all, suffering in silence, and happy to merely be a part of our lives. Heís a stray, not one who licks your hand and curls up at your feet, but one who does his best in any way he can to show his appreciation. Isnít it funny that all that appreciation comes too little too late? ††††††††††

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