Photo by Mike Freedman, courtesy of Flickr
Nickles and Dimes
by Mirel Bodner Abeles
“Hey beautiful, have some extra cash for a guy down on his luck?”
The young blond shook her head as she shuddered and hoofed it down the block.
“Mister, a buck for a coffee?”
The lawyer type tossed him two bits, impatiently, as if angry with himself for parting with the coins.
“Thanks!” He shuffled along, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. His stubble rasped against it, bringing to mind the days when he’d always been freshly shaved–like the angry lawyer. He’d even kept a spare shaver at work. Now if he had something more than a newspaper to cover himself with at night, let alone a shave, he felt lucky.
“Lady, have some spare change?”
The woman in the power suit averted her eyes as if she hadn’t seen him, hadn’t heard. Reminded him of his ex. Once he’d been downsized, she couldn’t bear looking at him or hearing what he had to say either. What did she care that no one was interested in hiring a man of his age? All she was interested in was getting a divorce, and the house and car and everything else that he had. Women like that didn’t look at scruffy, unwashed men. They were above them.
While his thoughts were otherwise engaged, someone flipped him a coin. Roused out of his bitter reverie, he caught it gratefully and slipped it into his pocket.
He jiggled the coins gathering there. Just a few more and he should have enough for a sandwich, maybe a coffee too. He continued to work the street. Some more nickels and dimes, a quarter or two, and then a tourist tossed him a fiver, breakfast and lunch guaranteed.
He slunk into the corner deli. Must be his lucky day, Hank was at the counter. Folks lined up there, but still, Hank looked up with a big smile for him.
“Hey Joe, how you been?”
“Doin’ okay now that it’s summer.”
Hank nodded while he took care of the customers, each in turn. When Joe reached the head of the line, Hank turned to him.”What can I do for you today, Joe?”
“Omelet sandwich and a coffee.”
“Sure thing. Sandwich with the works?”
Joe grinned and nodded. When Hank was at the counter, he filled the sandwich with everything it could hold. Sometimes, he’d even throw in some extra little treats into the bag. Prince of a guy.
Hank chatted while he prepared the order. “Haven’t seen you around lately.”
“Nah, I was working the garment district till it got too hot there.”
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. The sandwiches are better here, anyhow.”
Hank smiled. “Glad to hear that. Here you are,” he added, handing him the paper bag with his order.
Hank waited calmly as Joe painstakingly totaled up the nickels and dimes. Others on line were not so patient. Joe ignored them as he went through the coins; he figured he’d save the fiver for later.
All there, the exact change. “Thanks, Hank.” He took his bag.
“You have a good day now.”
Joe waved and walked out, noticing how some customers cursed him out under their breaths for wasting their time, or was it just for existing? Others wrinkled fastidious noses as he passed. He hoped Hank wouldn’t get into trouble.
The bright sun blinded his eyes for a moment. The best type of day: warm with no sign of rain. Joe headed to his favorite park bench, situated in a shady spot where he liked to eat while he enjoyed the view.
The bench was in a quiet corner, where he could people watch in peace. Sighing deeply in anticipation, he pulled out his sandwich and carefully unwrapped it to reveal… perfection. Hank had slipped him the whole wheat with the extra seeds and filled it with his omelet and plenty of veggies. He took a bite and closed his eyes in appreciation. No one made a sandwich like Hank. Or perhaps, as his mother used to say, hunger was the best seasoning. Joe considered it as he sipped his coffee.
A faint mewing caught his attention. He took another bite of his sandwich, and noted a kitten, no more than skin and bones, slinking around the park garbage can. If possible, the poor thing looked even hungrier than him.
He hesitated, but didn’t debate for long. He broke off a piece of his omelet and offered it to the scrawny puss. It arched its back and lifted its head, standing still to stare at Joe. Joe dropped the egg on the ground near the kitten, and backed off. The kitten looked at the omelet, then Joe, before lifting its nose to walk off in disdain.
“Man,” Joe mumbled. “That kitten doesn’t know from good!” He shrugged and picked up the piece of egg. If the kitten didn’t want to share his omelet, he knew what to do with it. Joe put the piece back into his sandwich and settled back on his bench. He took another bite and closed his eyes to appreciate every last sensation. Yes siree. Hank definitely made the best sandwiches.