After a few days making the quick walk to the beach from our condo in South Maui this June we started noticing the same man sitting almost motionless on a bench next to the main path to the water. He was wearing a bike helmet, sitting on a Mexican blanket and held a mango in his hand. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be blind.
Each day for two weeks we noticed him in the exact position as we had seen him the day before. From sunup to sundown this bronzed-skin “Maui man” sat unmoving on his bench. No one spoke to him, though occasionally he spoke to himself. Every so often he’d change his position slightly or briefly stand, but that was it. At night he'd be gone, then back again at first light. A wagon of personal items was parked next to him.
We were curious, and a little concerned.
As a photojournalist, I’d spent some time with the homeless and troubled youths, and learned something about empathy. It's a lesson easy to forget, that everyone is an individual with their own story. It would have been easy to ignor him and go on with our adventure for the day. But his behavior was unusual to us and seemed out of place in this paradise.
Was he coherent, confused, at risk, or at peace? Was he being cared for, did he need help, or did he just want to be left alone? Was it any of our concern?
After a week or so we decided to reach out with a paper grocery bag full of modest supplies. We introduced ourselves and told him we had some bottled waters, a beach towel, pillow and some granola bars if he was interested, and set the bag down next to him.
He looked up, again with his eyes closed, seeming to confirm his blindness.
“Are they vegan?” he asked in a British accent, then held up and jiggled an old plastic jug half-full of water.
“I don’t know, they’re Nature Valley….” then I trailed off.
He paused, politely handed the bag back to me, paused again and nodded, “Appreciation.” He seemed to have everything he needed.
That week, I posted this photo and text on Facebook, and about a month later a stranger messaged me. She said she had seen my post, then sought him out to learn more. It's funny, because I never mentioned the beach where we'd seen him. She got his name and learned that he is from London, and that he's lived on Maui "the farthest place on earth" for three years, and likes mangos. She reported that "he's looking for something in the sound of the ocean, loves hearing stories" and likes the attention.
We wish him well.