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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 31     <>     MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2001

ordinary lives

a real kindness

Charlie narrowed his eyes at the new girl behind the counter. Slim, pale, tired eyes — what was her deal, he wondered. Squinting, he leaned forward to read the black ink scrawled on her “Hello My Name Is” tag. Dane…Dani…Dania. Pin-up chick like her — what the hell was she doing here?

Not too many people came round to the Eastside Homeless Shelter unless there was something in it for them.

Take that gossipy broad Shirley, for example, the way she zipped from corner to corner like she was some queen of the house. Butch-dike liked ordering people around, that was for sure. And that porker Bea — well Bea was a lonely old bag, husband dead, no kids. She just didn’t have nothing better to do. Now that snot-assed Chinese kid, Garrett, he was the real mystery. Charlie’d tried poking around but all the kid had given him was a bored “Push off, old man.”

Yeah well, there’d be some story to this chick too. Everyone had a story. Kindness was hard to come by without strings, real kindness anyway.

He didn’t always used to think this way, back in the days when Buddy was still around. He missed that old nigger, politest damn fool in the whole town, not into crack-coke-smoke like all them others.

“Pardon my saying,” Buddy’d always start before speaking his mind. Stupid bastard was too soft for the streets.

Charlie remembered the last night he’d seen Buddy, the old alky was playing his fingers off in the bitch-cold dark on that fool flute he always carried around. Afterwards, he came by Charlie’s hooch with a plastic bottle of vodka and a tin of sardines. Bought it with his music money, he said and then laughed like a big joker. What a night that was, drinking under the stars and licking the salt and oil from their fingers.

Two weeks later Buddy fried his brains trying to steal some juice from the streetlights to power up his radio. Sorry bastard didn’t know too much about electricity and shit like that.

Not that anybody around here gave a damn that he was gone, and Buddy’d been a regular at the shelter for years. The chicks used to dig him and his flute. “Play us a song,” they’d ask and laugh. When he didn’t come round no more, they just didn’t ask.

Charlie’d almost lost that flute to some mofos come pawing through Buddy’s old shopping cart. He damn near had to wrestle them to the ground for that fool piece of metal. He tried playing it a few times but nothing good ever came out of it. Reckoned you had to have some good in you to start with if you wanted to make Buddy’s kind of music.

Charlie stood up and walked towards the counter. Point was, he thought, it wasn’t that hard to give when you had a lot to start with. What Buddy did, now that was real kindness. He reached for the last roll in the tray.

“You’ve already had your meal,” the pin-up chick said to him, shaking her head. “Why don’t you leave some for the others?”

What the hell…? He stared at her for a minute.

“Aw, fuck off,” he answered finally. First come, first grab — that was the rule. He crammed the roll into his mouth and wandered into the cold night.

Vanitha Sankaran is presently writing a collection of vignettes, to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her recent work can be found online at Prose Ax, The Independent Mind, Orchard Press Mysteries, and The Paumanok Review. Her current print work will appear in upcoming issues of Mindprints, The Guild, and FUTURES. She is also an editor at the new e-zine flashquake.