So this is what it has come to. Smoking crack in a dumpster. I guess it could be worse. I could still be chained by the ankles in that dungeon.
This dumpster stinks, the crack is cheap and burns my throat, but in a few minutes I will be able to sleep peacefully. There was no such thing as peaceful sleep in the dungeon. The creatures holding me there would arrive at random times, beat me or feed me, molest me and tease me, the ankle bracelets bit into my skin, there was no comfort to be had. The dumpster has spongey bits and hard bits, very easy to get comfortable in, to prop oneself up in such a way that relaxation is possible for hours.
A deep hit of my crack pipe followed by a few muffled coughs lets passersby know not to disturb me. To them I am an unknown entity, a coughing bin that might contain anything, a raggle of homeless junkies, a mad hobo with a rusty blade, a cat with human flu. The dumpster is an interstellar ship with high intensity shields. I am its captain. To my left, my navigator informs me that the approaching asteroid belt is said to contain precious metals which our home planet is in need of. With a nod I encourage the pilot to bring us into the belt. An alien ship is moored on one particularly large ‘roid. From behind me communications specialist Ron Vlaar announces that we are being hailed by the ship. The crew look to me for leadership. Our mission is not one of diplomatic discovery. This ship and its crew is out here on its own, abandoned by any sort of government or ruling body, with no instruction. As captain it is my job to ensure the safe journey of the crew’s inhabitants. I signal to the empty tin of soup that we are to leave the asteroid belt and I feel the glare of the Vlaar on the back of my neck, but I ignore it. Vlaar is nothing more than jumped up IT expert anyway.
I wake with a vicious crack hangover and a crick in my neck. I pop the lid of the dumpster and I am greeted by the dull grey light of a dreary morning, made duller by my failing senses. The years in the dark dungeon weakened my body and my humanity. Existing with no light for days, poor nutrition, and lack of stimuli has left me with poor vision, next to no sense of taste, and a dull wit.
I clamber from the dumpster and drop too heavily on my weak ankles. Someone stops at the top of the alleyway, but seeing the state of me, my mussed hair, rough beard and dirty clothes, walks away, forgetting me as soon as they smile at the cute coffee server two streets over.
I raise myself from the dirty ground of the alley, stumble onto the street a take seat on the steps of some building. I take a crumpled hat from my jacket pocket and lay it in front of me, hoping for some coin, and not thinking of anything but the way the air feels against my forehead.
The Coffee Drinker
I order a large black coffee from the cute guy behind the counter and don’t say thanks. On a normal day I would probably mull that over for the duration of my coffee, but I have something else on my mind. On my way to get this coffee I saw some sort of bum in an alleyway, a couple of streets back. He had fallen to the ground and I was going to go and help him, but he looked up, and, to be honest, I got a little scared. I was afraid that he might shout at me to leave him alone, and that would be embarrassing, that is why I didn’t stop. How stupid of me, for all I know the poor guy really needed my help, and if the worst outcome of my offering help was that I got screamed at, or told off, well that wasn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things.
After my cigarette and muffin I still couldn’t shake the image of that dirty bum from my mind, so I decided to walk back to the alley and see if he was still there.
When I get to the alley I see that he is sitting on a stoop near the top of it, a crumpled shapeless cloth that vaguely resembles a hat on the floor in front of him with a few coins in it. He seems to be snoozing.
“Sir, hello?” If he doesn’t respond I will drop some change into his cap, but he lifts his head and grunts at me.
“Hi sir, I saw you earlier, you had fallen over and I was just wondering if you are okay? If your hurt I mean.” Of course he is not okay, he is begging for money on a street corner!
“M’fine, thankee kindly.” He pokes his hat with his toe and drops his head again.
I drop some change into his hat and he looks at the hat, see’s that the change is quite a bit more than what had been there before and looks up.
“Can I help ya?” he asks.
Some creature is trying to get something out of me with the offer of money. Well I don’t do stuff for money anymore except sit. That’s accepted in this city, to just sit and get money. You just have to look miserable and be thankful and smell and be dirty but not be crazy. This thing offering me coin, I don’t know whether it is man or woman, looks crazy for sure. Must be crazy to be talking to a stinkin’ homeless guy. It is wearing high boots, skin tight leather pants, and a flowing leopard print top; all the marks of femininity but doesn’t have any tits, has a bit of hair on its face, and is wearing mascara on its oriental eyes. Its black hair is gelled into spikes with a fringe sweeping across its brow.
“I really was just wondering if you’re ok, but I would like to get you a coffee and a bun, if you would like it?” Its voice is middling tenor, no clue to its sex there. I haven’t had coffee in a long time.
“What do I gotta do for this coffee?”
“Not a thing sir, just… I saw you fall and a coffee always picks me up, and you can’t have coffee without a bun, that’s for sure and I thought you might like a hot drink.”
Seems that this thing is legitimately helpful, and I could drink coffee, damn I could swim in it. Would probably blacken it up a bit.
The Coffee Drinker
Every head in Smokies follows us as we move through the café, some twisting their noses. The guy does stink, so they can’t be blamed. I order two coffees, he says he wants his black, I order a low fat yogurt muffin for myself, he says he will have something with cream, so I get him a cream filled double chocolate.
Waiting for our order he says nothing, looks at no one, just stares blankly downwards and slightly to the left, half facing the wall. I don’t know what to say, which for me is unusual. What do you say to someone that lives a life so different than your own? I try to find some common ground.
“The weather has been pleasant recently.” I say. He doesn’t respond.
Music is playing in the café and when it changes to a soft piano with female vocal accompaniment the man looks up.
“This is Michelle Rodrigo.” He says. He isn’t asking, he is surprised, he is just stating the fact.
“You like her?”
“I saw her play before; she knows how to make you feel a certain way.”
“I can’t say that I am familiar with her, but this song sounds nice.” He sure wasn’t asking my opinion, and he didn’t really answer whether her not he likes her. I’m not sure if he is naturally this way, sort of stand offish, a bit rude, or he is just out of practice with conversation.
Our coffee’s and buns arrive, they server says nothing as she puts our plates down. The café is quite a bit emptier than when we first arrived. The song changes and we eat and drink without speaking again.
“So what do ya want? No funny stuff.”
“Oh, no, I don’t want anything, just to have a coffee!” It seems genuinely surprised that I would think that it would want something. Them in the dungeon were damn good at faking sincere. This isn’t the dungeon.
“Thank you. Thank you for the coffee.” I can’t say sir, I can’t say madam; I still don’t know what this creature is.
“Not at all, not at all.”
We stand on the street outside the café, I know the creature wants to go back to it’s world and I must go back to mine.
“Thank you.” I say again, I pop my hat from my pocket and throw it on my head. The kind creature doesn’t move, so I walk away and find a new stoop in a different part of town. The next time I see this coffee bringer it will be in a crack dream.
The Coffee Drinker
What is it about this homeless guy that makes me want to stay near him? I have seen hundred of homeless on the city streets, never cared for them more than throwing a bit of change their way. But this guy, I don’t know, it is like I can imagine him in chains not able to break free and be a man of the city. I don’t know why I think this of him; he is as free as anyone, free to roam at least. Still, I see him locked up, and I don’t think it’s his fault. Some homeless I think are homeless because of their own inability to work, or to stay off drink or drugs, or some sort of mental break down, but this guy… it feels like there is some other reason.
In the late night after that day I can’t sleep, and it’s not because of too much coffee. I am trying to think of how I can help him. I figure before I can help him I have to engage with him, I have to get him to trust me. I must be part way to getting there; he went for coffee with me. If he were any other stranger I had met I would have taken his name and checked him out on Facebook. I should have asked his name.
I resolve to find him on the stoop tomorrow and try to get more talk out of him.
To be continued…?