Al poked his head into the dining room, saw no one he knew, and after making sure the hall was clear, took the money out of his cigarette pack and put it into the pocket with the shower key. As he walked the hall past the sleeping areas, he removed his hat and the band of bills he kept there. Into the pocket they went. Standing against the door, looking into the main sleeping area, Al removed the folded bills from small pockets of his jeans, the ones where no one ever looked, no matter how many times he’d been rolled, and slipped them into the same pocket.
His other pockets were empty except for the change from his purchase. Finally, he made his way to the bathrooms. Al checked the toilet area first, and it appeared to be empty, so he hurried into the handicapped stall and sat on the toilet. Al crossed his right foot across his left knee and removed his shoe. He lifted the insole and removed the bills, which he stuffed into his pocket. Then he took off one sock, removed those bills, and pocketed them. Finally, he checked his other sock and the last bills. He did this for his left foot as well, hurrying in case someone came in. No one did.
He had 23 ones, 9 fives, 7 tens, 5 twenties, a fifty, and two quarters. Two hundred and eighty-eight dollars and fifty cents. Al was amazed. It was more than he thought. More than he’d ever had at one time.
The idea made him sweat but also made him calm. The more he had, the more he was willing to lose. Right now, he was willing to lose about half, though only a hundred would be comfortable. None would be excellent.
Al listened again. Footsteps. He wished he had thought to drop his pants. The footsteps came closer, then passed by without slowing. Al grabbed his money, tossed the plastic bag with his purchases on the floor, then stood and dropped his pants. He picked up the plastic bag, maneuvering the jeans and socks to the top, then started to sort his money. The fifty, all the twenties, and tens went into a roll. He unfurled one pair of socks, put the roll inside the sock, and rolled the socks again lengthways. He refurled the first pair of socks into the second pair. Then he took one five and four ones and stuffed them into the right front pocket of the jeans he was wearing. He took another five and put it in the breast pocket of his shirt, folded neatly, behind the cigarette pack. The remaining fifty-nine dollars he put in the various pockets of his new jeans.
Al flushed the toilet and left the stall.
The shower area was also empty. Al threw his plastic bag into the first stall. He stripped bottom to top, placing his shoes on the available bench, then his socks, jeans and underwear, three shirts, and hat.
Still, there was no one around. Al stepped into the shower and double-tied his plastic bag. He threaded one of the loops over the shower head as far back as it would go before turning on the water. The contents might get a little damp, but that was a small price to pay, and it was warm out. Al soaped and shampooed himself, reveling in hot water and clean skin, but keeping an ear out for someone entering the showers. No one did.
Al turned off the water and retrieved his bag. He toweled off and put on his new underwear, jeans, and shirt. He folded his old shirts and his old jeans and left them on the bench. Al tossed his hat in the bag with his other shirt. The old undershirt, socks, and underwear he threw away. Al put his money back where it belonged. He did so quickly and efficiently.
On his way out, he stopped by the dining room to see if there was any food. They hadn’t started lunch yet, but the ladies there liked him, so they gave him a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a milk carton. It was delicious.
“You look like a new man, sugar!” Debbie said, fanning herself theatrically.
“Feel like one too.”
“Now, don’t wait so long before you come back and see your girlfriend, you hear?”
“I won’t, Miss Debbie, I’ll see you very soon,” Al promised as he walked out the door. The cowbell jangled as he exited.
Al made it another two blocks before he changed his gait. He lifted his head and straightened his spine. The difference was subtle but the effect was undeniable. He no longer looked downtrodden. He looked like…well…like anybody. His steps were more sure and his bearing more erect. No one looking at him could have told you anything about him.
Al reached yet another door and set the bells jangling. Three faces looked up when he entered the barbershop.
“Hey man,” said the barber, “do for ya?”
“Can’t you tell?” said Al and gestured to his face. The three men laughed.
“Sit right here,” said the barber indicating the chair in front of him. “We’ll make you pretty in no time. I’m Mick, and this here’s Tito and Squash.” Al nodded to the men’s reflection in the mirror as he sat down.
“I’m Alex,” he said.