The digital crosswalk sign glares red from across the intersection of West Vine and Broad Streets in downtown Murfreesboro.
It is early October. It has just rained. The streets are glistening with puddles that are reflecting the glaring red crosswalk sign. Swiftly moving cars swerve around a 300-pound man slowly waddling across the road.
The man looks about 50, a heavy-set and big-boned type with a bald head. He has baggy clothes hanging from his body: beige cargos and a gray basketball jersey that barely covers his torso. He hasn’t bathed in three days.
Cars honk. Trucks stop.
“I don’t use the button to cross street. I am a V.I.P.! Very important person. Mm-hmm,” mumbles Eden Smagic, the heavy-set pedestrian, in a Russian accent. He maintains a constant smile.
He must think the cars can’t hurt him. He’s probably right—a 300-pound man would do the same amount of damage as a hefty deer.
Finally, Eden drags his mammoth feet forward and into the humid, low-cost United Grocery Outlet. After picking up a half-dozen bananas, a few apples, a package of salami, a large bottle of Sprite, a box of Taquitos and two cheese sticks, Eden heads to the cash register.
“All for eight bucks!” His wrinkled face lights up with excitement. Eden hands the gray-haired cashier some food stamps.
Eden has been using food stamps ever since he became homeless 6 years ago. Homelessness took hold of his life due to a disability that began complicating job possibilities.
It takes Eden the entire day to move from his camp in the woods to any destination. All day and evening he walks. Although the journey is exhausting, he is on a mission.
Armin, Eden’s son, is currently living in Bosnia. The only way to communicate with Armin is through Facebook, so speaking to Armin is Eden’s daily mission. Bosnia is Eden’s home country, located 5,165 miles away.
Eden is a veteran of the Bosnian War. During this war, which lasted from 1992 until 1995, a grenade injured Eden in his right lung. He thought he would never pull out of the war alive. Luckily, he spent two years in refugee shelters around Bosnia and in America. Eden found faith in Christianity throughout his healing process and miraculously recovered from multiple battle wounds. The battle wounds caused Eden to become disabled and, eventually, homeless.
Eden made it to America as a refugee and settled in North Carolina. He says North Carolina treats homelessness as a crime, so he migrated to Tennessee. Although the community treats him better here, it is still difficult to find a job while categorized as disabled.
Sweat rolls down from his forehead to the tip of his long nose as he makes his way out of the grocery store. His face glistens.
“Seventy-two degrees. Twelve o’clock p.m. Friday,” says a robotic voice.
“Urrrrrgh!” Eden growls.
He mumbles angrily as he fumbles through his Chick-fil-A bag. He pulls out his prepaid cell phone and explains that the factory settings are set to make his phone talk. He doesn’t know how to turn the voice off.
He puts his phone back in the bag. As he sits on a dirty concrete block outside the store, Eden peels his banana and looks vacantly across the street in a deep gaze. The block, Eden’s seat, is littered with rotten banana peels and old gum.
After devouring a banana, he lifts his 5-foot-11-inch body off the concrete block and carries his grocery bags to his next destination, to Armin. This is a daily routine. Same concrete block, same store, same walk.
Eden crosses the street without the walk signal again. Cars are avoiding his bulky body swaying across the road. He pays no attention.
He points at a bridge.
No one is under the bridge, but he says a group of homeless men go there at night to sleep and “do riff-raff.” Eden has nicknames for most everyone. This group under the bridge is called the “Beer Boys.”
Eden continues his slow trek from the grocery store. His legs are stiff from diabetes and other disabilities, so walking at a painfully slow pace is not an ideal way of getting around town.
He scours through the Chick-fil-A bag that he has been swinging. He finds his diabetes medication, ignoring the talking phone. Eden calls his medication “M&M’s.” His medications would cost roughly $2,000 per month, but he gets them for free because he is unemployed.
“This . . . is the library!”
His face expands into a giant smile. He shuffles faster to the entrance of the library and presses the handicap button to automatically open the doors.
“High-tech!” Eden says with a giggle. He says this every time he enters the library.
The library is where Eden goes to talk to Armin every single day on the computers. He never misses a day. Missing a day of his routine library visit would mean missing out on a chance to speak to his son. Even if it is just an emoticon, Eden wants to send something to Armin to show that he loves him.
It takes Eden all day to walk to the library, like any other location. The library is his favorite place to rest, and it is 10 miles from his camp. He calls the camp “Road to Damascus,” which refers to the journey of Saul from the Bible.
If he could, Eden would pitch his tent right in front of the library as if it were home.
Of course, he cannot live at the library. Eden will not disclose the location of “Road to Damascus,” for if he did he would no longer have a home.
“The lock on your door is like secrecy for my camp. If anyone finds out where it is, they will cut my tent and steal my things. I don’t want anyone to steal my things,” says Eden desolately.
His camp in the woods is a circular area surrounded by tarps hung up as a wall. The wall is for security and secrecy from passersby. Soon, he will begin building a fence of sticks surrounding the existing wall of tarps. This will ensure security when leaves fall off the trees in winter.
The area consists of a tent with a mattress and a plentiful amount of blankets inside the tent. The camp has a clothesline, one barrel used as a table, two chairs, a few clear plastic bags of clothes, a couple of empty jugs used for water and a “shower.”
This “shower” is a white piece of poster board with two empty apple cider jugs lying next to it. He fills the jugs with water from a sink located at a nearby park bathroom. Although his camp is minimal, it is all he has to call his own.
He seems to like being in the woods. He seems to enjoy it all, really. Not that anyone chooses to be homeless, but he likes the quiet, peaceful surroundings with no one bothering him. Or, as Eden says, no “cranky people” to bother him.
“I get used to the sounds. I can tell what is nature and what is not nature. Like person. Or bandit,” he says with a smirk.
Eden refers to the skunk that bullies his neighbors as “bandit.” His neighbors live in 8-by-12-inch boxes filled with newspaper. This is what Eden calls “Cat Town.” The skunk eats the cats’ food.
There are at least 30 cats that live about 50 feet from Eden’s camp. A former veterinarian comes by once a week to feed the cats and make sure they are healthy. All the cats are fixed and have had their shots.
After talking to Armin in the library, Eden sits outside on the ledge of a fountain. Sometimes, he sits for four hours, just listening to the fountain roar while drifting in and out of sleep. This is also a daily routine.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
He taps his foot, then falls asleep sitting up. He’s probably thinking about rock ’n’ roll again. He loves rock ’n’ roll.
“Seventy-two degrees. Three o’clock p.m. Friday,” says his phone.
He wakes up suddenly and delves into his earlier shopping-trip goodies. One cheese stick, a package of salami and a few apples later, he has drawn attention to himself again.
A child walking out from the library stops and stares as Eden slides all 10 pieces of salami down his gullet. The kid runs back into the library, looking frightened. Eden doesn’t notice.
Nearby, a man meditates and performs some sort of martial-arts routine outside the library. He is wearing all black with tall socks. The karate man has white hair, but looks young; he looks about 30.
“That guy,” Eden notes, laughing. “Don’t trust a man with that high of socks. Who knows what he’s up to!”
Eden drifts back to sleep.
He has at least five hours of free time daily, usually devoted to sleep. He does not have a job, but he has support from local organizations for which he volunteers. Volunteering keeps him busy as well.
Eden finds at least $3 in change on the ground every week, has food stamps and is fed by multiple churches and government organizations throughout the day. He does not drink alcohol and says he has never done drugs.
When asked what he spends his money on that he finds on the ground, he says he saves up for more tarps. Tarps keep his tent from leaking when it rains.
Eden awakes suddenly. He looks at his phone. It is 4 p.m.
“Oh, I must go!” he shouts as he stands up slowly. He packs up his picnic and is off on another journey across town.
Eden volunteers twice a week at Last Call 4 Grace in downtown Murfreesboro. He starts his walk to the ministry from the library at 4 p.m. and gets there roughly 30 minutes later. This occurs every Wednesday and Friday.
Last Call 4 Grace is a Christian association that provides food and assists the homeless while maintaining a relationship with them.
Upon his arrival, everyone seems to know him and think highly of him. Eden casually walks to the kitchen, which he obviously knows very well, to heat up his Taquitos.
He is homeless, yet he eats the entire 25-count box of Taquitos he bought earlier today. Instead of immediately consuming the hot meal provided, one that he very well could take part in, he waits until the other homeless and low-income participants have all been fed.
Today, Hoover Rock donated 250 pounds of catfish, hush puppies and potato wedges to Last Call 4 Grace.
Not only does Eden wait patiently to eat, he portions out the meals and hands them out to other homeless people who reside in three nearby local motels before taking part in the meal. The organization carpools to Murfreesboro Motel, Imperial Inn and Regal Inn to hand out food, then heads back to the organization’s building downtown.
“His heart is in helping other people,” says Lee McKinney, an active volunteer of Last Call. “He believes that whenever God sees fit, things will change for him.”
Homelessness isn’t always what it seems. Some homeless residents in Murfreesboro know how to work towards a better life without panhandling, doing drugs or drinking. Eden is a prime example of a homeless person looking to better his life and others’ lives.
“After talking to panhandlers, like the one who holds the Hungry sign in front of Walmart,” says Emmie Arroyo, part of Eden’s church family, “I have realized most of them are either fake or don’t know where to go. There are so many organizations that will feed and provide for the homeless.”
Recently, Eden found a family that is letting him reside in their home until he gets back on his feet. He will soon be moving into a lake house in Smyrna with 200 acres of land. He says he plans to apply for manufacturing jobs and is confident God will provide for him.
When asked if he has any ideas for the future, Eden just laughs.
“I don’t have any dreams,” he says; “I sleep like a baby.”
The following are homeless shelters and organizations in Murfreesboro:
Room at the Inn
Last Call 4 Grace
Journey Home Day Shelter
Rutherford County Shelter – Salvation Army
The Way of Hope
C.R.O.S.S. Shelter Project
Safe Haven Family Shelter
Nashville Rescue Mission