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
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
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.
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