Wash it Away

“Man, I tell ya; all these people back here have all this money and they go out and try to feed us this crap all the time? I mean, we’re people too, and we gotta eat. I ain’t never asked for nothin’ from nobody, you know? People offer me money or somethin’ like that I turn it down.” I nod. “But these bastards here think they’re something special and they can just treat us like garbage all the time. Well that’s bullshit! I work my ass off to get by, and Goddamn it I get by, you know? Not like these lazy fucks around here.” I scoop a sporkful of white rice, covered in chicken gravy and peas, into my mouth and nod again.

“I got a family, you know? I try to make sure they’re all taken care of and I look out for ‘em. ‘Cause family’s what’s important, you know?” I scoff, and quickly disguise it as a cough so as not to encourage a separate rant. “People these days, man. They just don’t know what they’re doin’, you know?” I nod again, glancing at his plate. He’s scraped it almost empty and is still scooping any last bits of gravy off of it. It’d be easier if you just licked it, I think. He stands.

His hoodie is hardly worth wearing. I’m sure it’s supposed to be black, but dried mud stains almost the entire thing, and there are holes riddled throughout it. His zipper is halfway up on the front left, and the right side is barely hanging onto the cloth. I want to grab it and rip it off, but I remain seated. I think he’s an amateur; new to the game. I’ve learned my lesson a long time ago that even in the worst situations, it was always crucial to look as not homeless as possible.

He shakes violently as he turns to walk away. His legs, arms, and even head act as if they belong to a remote control that was just stepped on. He walks to the collective trash bin and drops his plate in, turning back around and walking toward me again. I keep my eyes on him, trying desperately not to roll them.

“Well, it was nice talkin’ to ya. I’ll see ya around.” I nod a final time as he shakes his way out the door. As soon as he leaves I look down at my food, and then look up and around at the rest of the people eating. I push the plate out of my way and rest my head on the table, staring at the so-called treat that was offered for the day, which was a pack of fruit snacks left over from Halloween.

Before I know it I’m falling fast asleep. It’s 11:30 in the morning and yet I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. I can’t do this, I think right before I pass out. I don’t have time to check the clock on the wall when I’m awoken and thrown out of the Salvation Army soup kitchen, but I assume I got a good thirty minutes in.

The man rushing me out the door is heavyset, so heavyset in fact that I think about bum rushing him (literally) and knocking his ass to the floor, but the last thing I need is another night in a cell . His apron is stained with bits of rice and carrots soaked in soap water, and he doesn’t worry about getting some of it on me as he shoves me. “Can I at least grab my bag?” I ask as I’m forced out the door. I surprise myself with the severe rasp in my voice. I haven’t said a word to anyone in over a week, and just that little sentence was as painful as post tonsillitis.

The man turns to my table toward the wall and back at me. He raises an eyebrow in suspicion. “I’ll get it.” He says, and walks back to where I was sitting, constantly checking behind him to make sure I stay on the other side of the door. I stare at the business hours that are taped in laminated construction paper. There are three columns for weekdays, weekends and holidays, each a different color. The weekdays column is a faded red and below it are the times for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Weekends and holidays are virtually the same color, at least as far as I can tell. I’m severely colorblind, especially when it comes to blue and purple. I’m not sure which color I actually see. Not that it matters, I make a decision now and here to never set foot in a soup kitchen again. It restricts me once again and makes my life that much more difficult, but that haggard looking bastard was right. These people are either volunteers (aka old people who only do this because they have nothing better to do and are bitter toward the world) or community service workers who don’t even wanna be here.

They don’t care how good the food is, whether it’s expired, rough, or chewy. They just care about getting it out there and logging their required hours. Sure, every now and then there’s the hero; the Goddamn good samaritan who genuinely wants to help out the unfortunate, but those are once in a blue moon and half of them look about with such pity in their eyes it makes me want to spit at them and tell them I’ve got herpes.

That makes for about one person every 6 or 8 months who arrives at these places with a genuine interest in helping us out and having the decency to treat us decently. I say us, but I really mean me. I don’t want to associate with the rest of the people in my situation. I’ve seen them all from town to town, city to city, state to state, and they all have their little packs and help each other stay homeless.

The more friends made that way, the more a life without a bed doesn’t seem so bad. Well I deserve better, and I won’t be forced into a life that I don’t want. Plus friends are just a distraction. “Here.” The fat man throws my messenger bag at me. I examine it. Some of the safety pins I’d been using to keep the main compartment closed are missing. Deidra’s buttons riddle the front, all five of them accounted for. I look up at the fat man.

“I’m missing some safety pins.” I say. He scowls at me and I shrug as I throw the bag over my shoulder. “No matter. I don’t have anything in it anyway.” I walk out into the pouring rain and hunch forward, trying to keep the front half of my body from getting wet, and then I stop. I pause for a moment while my brow collects a pool of muddy water, and then turn around, walking back. My walk speeds into a run, and before I know it I kick the door open, shocking the fat man inside.

He jumps in a way I didn’t think was possible and I take advantage of his surprise. I run up and knock the side of his left ear. The blow drops him to his knees and I break his nose with mine. Screaming can be heard in the back as I grab the man’s shirt and try to keep him upright while I wail on his face. The shirt tears as he falls back on the tile; out like a light.

I shake my right hand of the blood and stare at it. My silver ring has a small piece of flesh in one of its ridges, probably from his ear in that first hit. “Call the police!” a woman shrieks. I calmly walk to the kitchen and wash my hands. Behind me a hero approaches, but they aren’t very quiet about it. I turn around just in time to block a frying pan intended for my skull.

My left elbow damn near breaks and in a reflex I throw an uppercut into an old woman’s chin. She flies back, swinging her arms around as if she’s trying to balance herself on a wire, and falls to the floor. She holds her jaw and cries, and I am more shocked than I am ashamed. She did try to hit me with a frying pan after all, although my response was purely instinct.

She has a strong structure, too. My knuckles haven’t been that sore since my first fight . I finish cleaning my hands and run out the door. It is unfortunate that a police station is so close to the Salvation Army, but it is also fortunate that I am just another homeless man. I quickly take off my messenger bag and remove the buttons. My hands shake as I try to take them off without breaking them. Sirens wail in the background and my mind splits in two. Leave ‘em! You wanna get caught here? Of all places? And who knows what’ll show up when they run your fingerprints! 

No! I need these. They’re my only momentos.

No time for sentiment. If they grab you you’re gonna lose them anyway. 

Maybe so, but I’ll get them back when I get out. 

And who knows when that’ll be this time? 

Doesn’t matter. I can’t lose them. I can’t let go. I slip the last button off as the sirens begin to pierce my ears. I look as I run and catch flashing lights around the side of the building. Before I have a chance to duck into hiding, a firetruck speeds by. I stop and stare for a moment as it races down the road, and start to laugh. My laughter stops immediately when I hear a second set of sirens approaching, and I beat feet again down a nearby alley. I think about jumping into a dumpster, but not being found there would require a roll of the dice, and the dice are loaded.

The splash of dirty water underneath my feet is all I hear as I race through, trying to find a better place to hide. I come out to a street and look both ways; down the road, about two blocks away, is a moving truck and little else. I turn around and see a police car pull up to the Salvation Army. The officer walks up to the door, then turns and sees me at the end of the alley.

I take off toward the moving truck. Second time’s a charm I think as I bolt up to it, lifting the door and climbing in. Luckily for me it’s empty, and I slam the door shut. I press my back against it to hold it down and try to catch my breath quickly. I turn my ear to the door and try to listen for footsteps. They are faint, but they are there. I cover my mouth to try and muffle my heavy pants. The footsteps get louder and louder, every now and then being drowned out by a passing car in the road.

But when all noise subsides, a slight squish can be heard in a steady rhythm. I close my eyes and begin to cry as silently as possible. Why the fuck did I do that? What’s wrong with me. What have I become? That guy didn’t even do anything. Not really. It’s no use now, though. This is it. I’m going to jail and probably prison. The footsteps keep getting closer. Closer and louder. And then …



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