The man tottered past the door without a second look and entered my territory. I held my breath. I didn’t imagine for a second he’d hear me breathing, but it’s what you do when you don’t want people to find you, a tactic every kid learns playing hide-and-seek.
He stopped a few feet away, wobbling side to side like a man standing on the deck of a ship at sea rather than a stable patch of cement behind the fifth best Italian joint in town. I didn’t fancy the look of him: he resembled a man unable to hold his booze.
Desperate to prove me right, he jerked to the side, bent at the waist and threw up on a pile of garbage bags.
“Jesus, dude. Careful. I think you got some on my shoes.”
Startled, the man fell back, his ass squishing on a damp piece of cardboard. He surveyed my dark corner, staring right at me without seeing me, probably shocked at a trash heap that spoke English. I toyed with the idea of fucking with him, but my annoyance at his presence squashed the desire. It made more sense to get rid of him because the dinner rush would be done soon, and I didn’t want to share the bounty.
I leaned forward and his gaze found me, not exactly like looking in a mirror for him because his rumpled and creased business suit and recently-cut-but-out-of-place short hair didn’t match my look. In eight months, I’d been near a barber once to ask for change, never for a trim. And opportunities to wash oneself or one’s clothes came along infrequently when living on the street—ditto the chance to shave—so I’d done neither in weeks. My patchy teenage beard probably made me look more like a crazy man.
“S…sorry, ah, dude.” The man wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then his hands on his pants. “I didn’t see you.”
He didn’t sound as intimidated as I’d hoped. “No sweat, man. Just don’t puke on me again.”
He clawed at trash bags, clambering in the manner of a turtle flipped on its back until he got his feet under him, then brushed at the grime on his overcoat, smudging it across the lapel with his grubby hands. Smearing complete, he stood watching me, arms dangling loose at his sides.
I faded into the shadows, looked at the end of my joint to make sure it was still lit, then took a deep drag, the burner’s orange glow illuminating my lips and the tip of my nose. With one eye closed to keep the smoke out, I held my breath for a few seconds, then puffed it free of my lungs in a swirling cloud. The man breathed deep, inhaling the sweet odor of marijuana, and looked at me expectantly.
“You want a hit, dude?” Maybe if I shared my weed, I wouldn’t have to share the food when it arrived.
He took a step, hand extended to accept my offer.
“Grab a seat.”
I shuffled over in a rustle of cardboard and plastic, creating space for him to sit and thinking that, if I got him high enough fast enough, he wouldn’t notice when room service showed up. The guy looked a lightweight, so it shouldn’t take much.
He slouched forward to take a seat and lost his balance; on the way down, his forehead smacked against the brick wall and he tumbled into my lap. I jerked my hand away, barely keeping him from knocking the joint out of my fingers.
“Come on, man. First you lose your cookies on me, now you sit on me? Get it together.”
“S-s-sorry.” The stuttered word bore the distinct slur of inebriation, or maybe the ding he’d taken to the noodle caused it. He shinnied himself off me, coming too-close-for-comfort to pawing my balls as he did, then scooted his butt around until he found a comfortable spot amongst the garbage. “My name is Jack.”
He held out his hand for me to shake, but instead of the usual societal formalities, I offered him the joint. Jack took it between his thumb and index finger and inhaled with the exaggerated sucking sound made by people who don’t normally smoke. He held his breath and passed the reefer back. I grinned when his lungs revolted and a held-in cough bulged his cheeks, making him resemble a poor impersonation of Dizzy Gillespie.
“Good shit, hey?”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed struggling to inhale a breath of fresh air. “Good shit.”
I took another pull of the joint. “I haven’t seen you around before. You’re not dressed like most of the guys who hang out here.”
He looked down at his suit and I followed his gaze to the streak of puke down the front of his jacket, the spots of grime on the lapel. His purple tie hung askew and the creased tails of his mauve shirt hung over his belt.
“Had a fight with my girlfriend,” he said and belched the mixed aroma of puke and ganja. I waved my hand to clear the air; he swallowed and grimaced. “She’s pregnant.”
“And this is how you celebrate?”
Jack shook his head and winced with pain. “Nothing to celebrate. Kid can’t be mine.”
“Shitty, dude. Another drag?”
He blinked, then rubbed his hand across his eyes like someone scrubbing the sleepiness away. I waited for a second, but he didn’t seem to have heard me, so I elbowed him in the ribs to get his attention.
“You all right, man?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
He took the joint, blinking. I thought the smoke caused it but, when he turned, I saw blood flowing into his eyes from the gash he’d given himself in the forehead. A trail of dark fluid ran from his hairline, past his eye, along his cheek and down to his jaw.
“Dude, you got some blood there.”
Jack’s eyes rolled up, looking for the wound like a dog chasing its tail, then he giggled at himself for trying to see his own forehead. He transferred the joint to his left hand, touched his head and lowered his fingers in front of his eyes.
“Banged my head,” he said and took a toke. “Hurts.”