Al was tired from the night before.
He’d been awakened and asked to move along three times before finding an unoccupied covered doorway just before sunrise. He’d headed to his café, as usual, beating the morning manager.
Al leaned against the warming stucco of the café, eyes closed to the sun on his face, and watched the kaleidoscope of purples, blues, greens, and oranges inside his eyelids.
The cafe’s door had a bell, and Al heard it as someone entered or exited. He didn’t open his eyes, but he knew it was Sophie, his favorite barista, coming to wish him good morning.
Sophie always brought him a steaming cup of coffee–likely the first of the day–and chatted to him for a few moments.
Al rarely talked back, though he did thank her for the coffee. He didn’t have much else to say or space to say it. The weather, sports, and city happenings were always on Sophie’s mind, and what was on her mind came out of her mouth.
Al nodded along. That’s how he knew today was the day. The impending visit from the far-away owner.
Al waited until Sophie went back inside before dropping to a squat. He enjoyed his coffee– savored it, really–then waited another thirty to forty-five minutes to be sure. No one approached him or seemed to notice him at all. He was part of the background. Part of the city it would rather not see and often chose to ignore.
He slowly stood, shaking out his limbs. Al looked around, watching for watchers. After standing against the sun-warmed stucco for another twenty minutes or so (God, he loved this spot), Al shouldered off and started his slow, shuffling walk uphill.
No one was around–a joke, really, since there was always someone around in this city–so he dug into his front shirt pocket with two fingers. There was a pack of cigarettes in there, but he was going for the roll of money safety-pinned inside.
Al pulled both from his pocket and stopped to light a cigarette while carefully thumbing loose a twenty and tucking it nimbly into the sleeve of his lighting hand. The rest of the money slid neatly into the cigarette pack with his lighter.
Al didn’t really like to smoke–it attracted others–so he tossed the cigarette after a block.
From there, it was only another five blocks to the Salvation Army Store and a new set of threads. Al chose carefully, flipping through each shirt and pair of pants as though preparing for an important business meeting.
In a way, he was. He needed to blend into two very different environments, so he must choose carefully.
Al finally decided on a white-ish thermal shirt that looked a little chewed at the sleeves and collar but fit pretty well, dark wash jeans a half-size too big, and a fleece lumberjack shirt he would save for later. He kept his shoes and hat since he didn’t find better options, but he got two new pairs of socks and some underwear. After making his purchases–a grand total of $11.50–Al pointed himself in the direction of the nearest shelter.
It was a little after nine, he thought, plenty of time for most everyone to have gotten out of dodge for the day. There might be a few stragglers who wouldn’t blink at the chance to fleece him– might, in fact, be hanging around for just such an opportunity–but there was only so much he could do about that.
Al had more cash on him now than he usually did at this time of the month, and he didn’t mind parting with a little of it if necessary.
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