The night gathers in around me, whispering empty promises of rest and relief. The shop lights go out, the street lamps come on, and I begin my walk home.

I like to do the return trip by foot when the weather is agreeable to the idea. It costs nothing but time (the one thing I’m fabulously rich in) and gets me off my butt after a long day of sitting, staring, and (sometimes) sleeping.

I have no Night Time Jerry, no yet to be jaded driver to chauffeur me home free of charge. There are too many of us out and about when the sun goes down and not all of my brothers and sisters of the streets are blessed with my social graces. I learned quickly enough that “Come on man, don’t be stupid, I ain’t got no cash!” is not a good enough argument to earn a fare-free trip.

And I’m trying to save my money – I don’t know what for exactly, not yet anyway, but I know I can’t go on like this much longer. Five years on the streets have killed better men and women than I and year number six is coming up fast.

I have a shoebox full of bills stowed behind a loose ceiling panel for daily necessities and the odd impulse buy. I try not to keep too much up there since my impulses tend to lean in the direction of Tommy and his evil concoctions.

There’s a sock full of change under a floor board next to the couch that’s partly for protection and partly for small purchases. I’ve never had to use it for the former but get plenty of use from the latter – I’ve got a soft spot for Tic Tacs.

All the rest I trust to Karl, a high school friend turned social worker. Once a week we meet up for ice cream down at Ricky’s on 8th Street. We talk about our weeks over bowls of mint chocolate ice cream and before we part I hand over whatever I want stashed away. Sometimes it’s as little as five bucks, on the odd occasion it’s as much as a hundred, but I always have something for him.

Karl always takes the money with that near-constant smile of encouragement and limps across the street to deposit it in “our” account. He takes care of the paperwork and answers the questions I don’t even understand but he cannot withdraw a dime. That’s the one thing I can do, but only if he’s with me. And he won’t let me in there with him until I have a damn good plan for that cash.

We opened up the account around two years ago; I can still see the look on the bank manager’s face when Karl was explaining what we wanted. I don’t know how much is in there now, he won’t tell me until I come up with a list of good options for it. I don’t know what’s stopping me from doing that. Maybe I’m scared I’ll screw it up and end up back here with nothing again.

I hang a right down Brooks Avenue as the shops become a little more spread out, a little more run down. Traffic is more sporadic now, but no less noisy. A car races by, vibrating in time with the bass of the too-loud stereo. I may have to walk or bus everywhere but at least I’ll take my hearing to the grave. Well, they might too if they keep driving like that.

Besides a few strays out walking their dogs I have the sidewalk to myself. I’ve got a decent amount of cash on me, squirreled away in various pockets, but I know I’m perfectly safe. For some reason people never seem to think someone like me has any money.

My stomach rumbles as I pass another convenience store but I ignore it. Just a bit further to the only half-decent deli this side of downtown. Sarah always saves me a ham and cheese on multigrain with a side of yam fries - at four bucks it’s the best deal in town. It’s nice having people look out for you.

I pass an alley full of people but empty of dreams and keep walking. I know they take good care of each other down there but they also don’t care for outsiders. It’s a bum community of ten or eleven that watch out for each other from hour to hour but they’ve got no long term vision. Not like me. My vision might be cloudy but at least I’m looking.

What do people do with large amounts of cash? I’ve never had the chance before and I don’t have a damn clue. Karl won’t even give me a hint, he wants the idea to be all mine so that I’ll stick with it. But I don’t have a damn clue.

Sarah’s deli is all shut up by the time I get there but she’s a sweet old lady that won’t let me go hungry. I open up the black mailbox that hangs off the front door to find my dinner waiting in a brown paper bag. I take it out, drop four bucks in, and head for home.

As I reach my block the food is all gone save for a couple fries. I like to leave those out for Phakov in the hopes that my wake up call will be gentler if he’s had a bite to eat. No luck so far.

I stand outside my building and take a few final breaths of the crisp night air. I look around at all the broken windows and empty barrels and broken down cars. How much money would it take to escape this? Would I survive the fall back here if I failed? Is change worth the risk?

The End

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