He was intent and bent over the side of the dock. At first glance I wondered if he was drinking the murky, bay water. Realizing the salt content would leave him even thirstier, I continued watching. I thought perhaps he might be praying, trying to catch a fish with his bare hands or perhaps, horrors, contemplating his death.
He changed spots.
I turned my head to look out over the water, least he glance up and feel I was intruding on a private moment. As he leaned over and bent down again, I saw his hand twitching. Was it a natural twitch? Did the movements have any special meaning to him? Was he agitated?
He repositioned himself yet again.
Suddenly, he reached into the water, once, twice, thrice, each time flinging something up onto the dock. Three mussels lay there, wet and glistening in the morning sun. At that very moment a young woman to my right squealed in delight as the sea lions sunning a few yards from us became vocal (apparently voicing strong opinions, loudly). She apologized for her exuberance. I countered I had no claim on the day, and joy was a wondrous thing to share.
I turned back to man. This time he saw me. He hesitated briefly before pointing (somewhat sheepishly) to the three mussels on the pier.
“These are a gift from the pier,” he said.
“Are you leaving them there?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“So you are gifting the pier?” I asked.
He turned to face the water and sea lions, as if pondering my question. Slowly he smiled. A gentle smile. A smile which, while missing many teeth, seemed to contain a simple joy in the moment. “Yes,” he said facing me.
“That’s very kind of you,” I said.
“Kindness is a good thing,” he said as smile grew larger and he held himself taller.
“You’re right,” I said.
Looking first at me, then the young woman and her two young male companions he said, “I’ve given this gift of kindness.”
“I’m sure the pier thanks you,” I said.
“You can do the same,” he said.
“Gift the pier?” I asked.
“Give a gift of kindness,” he said.
“You’re right again,” I said.
He reached down, gathered his meager belongings, and walked up the ramp. The three young people, having decided on a new destination, departed. I stood quietly watching the now quiet sea lions and sea.
Soon a couple rode onto the dock. They parked their bicycles, sat (legs hanging over the edge, each eating a banana) as they chatted about their ride, unaware of the gift giving that had so recently taken place.
I looked again at the three mussels, still on the pier, gifted to the Man of Morro Bay which he chose to immediately gift back, smiled, turned around, and left.
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