He was a man in his late 50s; his face bared black and white stubble and his tall, wiry frame was draped in old clothing. His name was Tyrone but he told me, “people call me World.”
It never dawned on me to ask him why he received that nickname; I’d soon find out that I would leave with many unanswered questions.
I first met World in front of Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus when he approached me and asked what my major was.
When I explained that I was double majoring in international relations and journalism, his eyes widened and he whistled as though he ate a hot pepper.
“That’s something deep” he said. I sensed that he was dreading his next question.
He asked for money, but I knew that I could do more than just handing him a dollar and moving on with my day. I looked over his shoulder to the McDonald’s across the street and decided to invite him to lunch.
He went to the restroom after we ordered. I sat down with our food and waited patiently for him to return. He returned with a subdued grin that quickly turned to a smile as he noticed me. As he sat down, I asked him if everything was alright. He let out a long sigh and looked down as if he was looking for the words to say on the floor.
“I’m dying. There is no other way to put it,” World said. “I have HIV. I just spent the last 10 minutes coughing up blood.”
But it didn’t phase him and he continued to speak as though nothing had occurred. I, being hungry, began to eat my food rather quickly. He smiled at me and chuckled.
“Where [are] you trying to head off to so quickly?” he asked. I replied by saying nowhere.
“So then eat calmly,” he answered.
He spoke next of prison, or how he called it “the cage”. He spent 13 years inside “the cage” and that’s where he got his nickname. I didn’t ask how he got in there, but he spoke of how poorly he and others were treated and how tragic the situation of prisons and law enforcement continues to be.
We then began our goodbyes. He told me he was heading to Boca Raton to try and receive treatment.
“There’s nothing left for me here,” he said. I gave him money for his trip and watched as he walked away.
Although I was left with unanswered questions and unsaid words, I left learning the life and story of someone most people wouldn’t usually sit down and have lunch with.