James in a Quilted CoatJames — 26 years old. He said he came from Jamaica when he was 15. He asked to go to America because he wanted to get a car like Americans and drive around. He came to Skid Row.

He said he went to Milwaukee a few days ago to visit friends. And now he’s back home. He said he works in East LA – selling all types of things. He said he wants to go back to Jamaica to visit his mom and brothers and sisters, they always complain he never stays – always leaving.

He spoke in a sort of lifeless tone and stared vacantly at nothing in front of him. He rarely looked at me. He is not altogether there. I see no way he can afford to travel to Jamaica or buy his mom the diamond jewelry he spoke of.  In his face I saw someone I know well, someone very dear and close to me.  It broke my heart to think that soon I will leave and he will remain where I found him.

I showed him a cell phone photo of a painting and told him I want to paint his portrait. Life jumped into his eyes. He became excited — asked me if I’ll paint him for real. He seemed amazed I could paint like that and wished he too could. I promised him I will paint his portrait, he seemed very happy.