I hear the bus coming before I see it. The disgruntled rumble of its engine devours the silence of the morning and scatters my thoughts to the wind. I had been thinking of TJ again and I’m not sad to stop.

I get off the half-rotten wood bench as the bus rounds the corner and bounces from pothole to pothole before shuddering to a halt before me. Jerry opens the door, coffee in hand as always, and gives me a short nod for a welcome. The roads just get worse and worse but I’ve yet to see him spill a drop.

“Where to today?” he inquires. He has to ask because I fall asleep at the back of the bus sometimes. This way he can make sure I don’t miss my stop. He’s a good man.

“12th and Smith,” I tell him and head for the back without paying. Jerry and I have come to an understanding in the last few months – he lets me ride for free and in return I don’t cause any trouble for him or his passengers. The other commuters never complain but every now and again I catch a dirty look tossed in my direction. I like to sit right behind those ones and talk to myself just loud enough for them to hear.

This morning everyone is buried in newspapers and magazines so I take my usual seat at the back left of the bus. The cold plastic makes its way easily through the worn seat of my jeans and nestles against my skin as the bus lurches into motion again.

12th and Smith, better known, to me at least, as Beg Site #1. I’ve got five spots around the city that I use on a regular basis plus two others on special occasions, such as big concerts and hockey games. Mostly I stick to The Beg Five though.

I set up shop at Beg Site #1 on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s one of the many intersections here that have a coffee shop on each corner and I do my best business first thing in the morning when all the suits struggle by in search of their caffeine fix to start the week. Things pick up again around mid-morning and again at lunch and then it’s pretty dead for the rest of the day.

Wednesdays usually find me at Beg Site #2, International Square. It has a Starbucks for the morning crowd and for lunch there are a flock of fast food joints that I never eat at (hey, I may be destitute but I still have taste buds). Some weeks I have to share the area with Parker but he hasn’t been around lately. Word going round is he O.D.’d again but that’s what everyone says about anyone that disappears for more than a day.

Thursdays tend to be slow all over the city so I visit Beg Site #3 sparingly. When I’m there I bunker down between the banks on 1st Ave hoping for a few big scores from the ATM users. When I’m not there I spend the day getting high with Tommy in the alley behind the local Conservative Party head office.

I like to take Friday mornings off, often to recover from Thursday’s activities. Just before lunch I’ll hit up Beg Site #4 at Marlowe and Kennedy. There are several pubs in the area that draw big TGIF crowds and wallets tend to get a bit looser with all the booze flowing around. So do tempers though so you gotta be careful to avoid trouble.

Business remains brisk right through to nightfall and it tends to be my most lucrative location. I make a point of eating well on Friday nights and if the day was really good I’ll treat TJ to dinner at one of the organic grocery delis downtown. If she’s talking to me that day anyway.

Beg Site #5, outside the big shopping mall downtown, is great for the weekend tourist hordes. If TJ and I are on speaking terms we spend Saturdays and Sundays together and split the haul at the end of the day. People seem to give more generously to couples; we discovered that back in January during the cold snap when we had to huddle together for heat. Now we just cuddle for cash.

If they only knew the real story of us.

TJ and I aren’t exactly your typical couple, if we could be called that. Sure we drink and get high and screw, sometimes all three at once, but I don’t know if she does that with other guys or not. I don’t mess around with anyone else but that’s mostly due to a lack of opportunity. Mostly.

Ah TJ: part-time lover, part-time friend, full-time crazy bi-

“12th and Smith!”

I thank Jerry as I hop off the bus and survey my workplace for the day. It’s empty of people now but that won’t last long, my clients will be along shortly. They always are.

The End

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