WHAT YOU NEED

 

    For the first time in five months, April did not shiver while she waited for her bus. The sun was high in the sky, surrounded by a blank canvas of blue. She wore plain jeans and a black shirt, clothes warm enough that the occasional breezes would not chill her but breathable enough to enjoy the balmy mid-seventy weather. In her bag she had tucked a green dress shirt for work, but at that moment she was happy to give her arms some sun.

    She took a drag on her cigarette, closing her eyes to the sun’s pleasant warmth. All reports seemed to say the storms had passed, but April didn’t need weathermen to know Spring had come. The air was filled with pine sap, cherry blossoms, and the excited song of birds. Best of all, she was warm, and she needed nothing besides that--not food, not drink, not even money for rent.

    She took another drag.

    Considerate of her smoke, April stood a little away from the stop, where a woman waited with her two children, a boy and a girl. The pair played while their mother watched them carefully, making sure they did not venture into the street nor towards the park entrance, where a man slept on a bench. He looked homeless. He wore dirty jeans, heavy boots, and a green knee-length jacket, his dirty face looking slightly pained beneath the warm sun. He used a firm looking backpack as his pillow. Every few breaths he would snore gently, almost like a baby.

    April had seen the man as she walked up the street. Passing him, her mind did the same somersaults it always did when passing the homeless--wondering if he was dangerous, wondering what had happened to him, smelling the alcohol on him, chiding herself that he was a human being, not an animal, hoping he didn’t ask for money, relieved when she was finally past. With the flick of her lighter, she pushed him out of her mind.

    There was no sign of the bus. April glanced down the street, but only saw three cars, one with a box of lights on the roof. Cop. She paid no attention to them, until the cop began to slow. She could see the officer inside, hair buzzed, collar starched, sunglasses dark. She watched him roll down the window.

    “Hey,” he yelled. No one did anything. “Hey, you!” he yelled again. April thought he might be yelling at the sleeping man, a thought confirmed when the cop yelled, “Wake up!”

    The man on the bench stirred. April heard a catch in his snoring, watched him blink sleepily as he sat up a little. “Morning, officer,” he said, his voice blurry.

    “You been giving these nice people trouble?” the cop asked. April blinked.

    “No trouble, officer,” the man said. “Just enjoying the sun.”

    “Didn’t I see you here earlier?”

    “Sorry?”

    “I said, didn’t I see you here earlier?”

    The man shrugged. “Might’ve. Was just takin’ a nap is all.”

    “I saw you here three hours ago.”

    “Okay.”

    “You can’t stay here.”

    “Yes, officer.”

    “Did you hear me?”

    “Yes, officer.”

    “What did I say?”

    “You said I cannot stay here.”

    “Do you understand?”

    “Yes, officer.”

    “Then why are you still here?”

    The man licked his lips. “I was just waiting for the bus is all, officer.”

    “For three hours?”

    “I fell asleep.”

    “You can’t sleep here. This is a nice neighborhood,” the cop pointed towards April, “these are nice people. You can’t go around making nice people nervous.”

    “I wasn’t causing any trouble, officer.”

    “You gotta get on the next bus, you hear?”

    “Yes, officer.”

    “If I come back here and you’re still on that bench, we’re going to have some trouble, you understand?”

    “I haven’t done anything wrong, offi--”

    “Do you understand?”

    “Yes, officer.”

    Without saying anything else, the cop rolled up his window and nudged the car further down the street. As he passed April, she looked into the black emptiness of his sunglasses. He nodded a salute. April looked away.

    The girl waddled up to her mother and asked, “Is that man bad?” The woman took her daughter’s hand and said, “shhhhhh.”

    Fuck that cop, April thought. Now that guy’s gonna come panhandle. All I’ve got is a five and a one, and I need that five for my ticket. Even if I give him the one and that lady gives him a one, he’s still fifty cents short. Maybe he’s got fifty cents, but what if he doesn’t? What if he gets desperate?

    Can’t I give him the five? I’ve got other ways to get a ticket. He probably doesn’t.

    But why does it matter? I’m just going to give it to him to make myself feel better. Neither a five nor a one will do anything for him in the end, not really. He’ll only leave here for another neighborhood and another cop. And in a day, there’ll be another homeless man sitting there, and that cop will get to harass him too.

    Unbidden, April remembered a fight she had with her mother. She couldn’t remember when it was or what it was about, but she could remember her mother saying with a strained voice, “April, kindness isn’t some complex philosophical problem; you need to just be kind, whatever that means at that moment.”

    April approached the man, her hand falling into her purse.

    “Hey,” she said. The man looked up at her and April could see the panic, the way his eyes widened and his lips had pressed firmly together. “You got money for the bus?” she asked.

    “No,” the man said.

    April pulled out a slightly crumpled five from her wallet. “I got you,” she said, handing the man the bill.

    The man looked at it, then at April. “But how are you gonna pay for the bus?” he asked.

    “I can get a ticket on my phone,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be good.”

    The man hesitated another moment, then reached out and took the bill. “Thanks,” he said. April nodded and turned back to the stop.

    Feel better? she asked herself sarcastically.

    “Can I ask you something else?” the man asked. April turned back and saw him smiling sheepishly. He scratched his thumb across his dark beard. “Can I bum a smoke?”

    April gave him two.

William Aime