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he asks of my favorite.

i pluck one from the air; they are still swinging around my dreamy little head like plastic-bit mobiles.
there are a few.

one i did not tell is clutching my sweating hands in coat pockets while my face scrunches into the cold.
huddled into that shuffling city walk always seeking something, coffee sushi beer.
warmth mostly or a place to pee.
watching this lanky comfortable confident stroll at my side, grinning from my eye-corners. darting around people like i am smooth or something. like i am trying to impress you.
i will realize this only later.

one is spilling wine on my pajamas. another is cleaning wine off the floor.
broken shards everywhere and thinking myself too motherly if i tell these boys
Be Careful There Is Glass Here.
they know i think. they are barefoot monkeys but big kids still. they know.

(they get a pie anyway
and do not eat it.) punks.
one of you did though and found the secret ingredient.

one is spitting a pickle-bite back out into my napkin and trying not to make too much of a mess and still getting pickle juice on my pants but not laughing because i was so revolted.
i was also warned.

one is mellow basement computing with one of you.
quiet but not silent because it seems comfortable and i am mostly just observing.
when we do speak it is in low tones like one might with a cat. i like this.

one is thrashing against a wedgie. but not too hard. i deserved it.
the other is fighing off the NINJA ASSASSIN at your doorstep. hahaha. i did. all by myself.
i knew silent footfalls would come in handy someday.

and subway. and smiling. and subway. and smiling. and subway.
and oh oops here come the junior mafia. just be cool and no one will notice.

one is secret places but i will not tell too much.
just glints in my eye of snow on rocks and light on rivers and breath on faces.
and that is all you get of that one.

the car is also a secret but the gardening shears are not.
i want to see some fingers severed.

and airport moments.
this is usually my closet voyeur:
humanity in the midst of hello and goodbye and will i ever see you again
clutching and crying. or a deep kiss. or running through terminals grinning like madmen.
or looking back over their shoulders for a final glimpse but it is too late they have already rounded the corner.
but here is the thing: the tables are sometimes turned.

and wine and gin and bears in kegs. i think.
i do not know. something happened.
i will not list all yr names. just because. special peoples know who they are.
i heart you all and you know it.

the one i chose to tell though
is about a brisk brooklyn morning
walking into waking with three of the best
breakfast headed and for a beat footfalls into step
with each other and we were nothing short of invincible.

"I'm sorry to dump this on you guys, " Dave said, finishing off his chicken parmigiano. "I mean, Jen and I don't get to see you guys that often, this is such a nice dinner, and all we've talked about is our troubles." His wife, Jen, nodded her agreement.

"Don't worry about it, Dave," admonished Cheri, my then fiancee. We sat on the periphery of a dense friday night crowd, waiting for the waitress to come back. Jen and Cheri needed their left-overs boxed up, and we all heard the coffee and dessert calling to us through the din. "It's really no problem. We're your friends, that's what we're here for. Besides, I'm used to it, this kind of thing happens to me all the time."

"Friends unloading on you?", Jen asked.

"No, not just friends," I said mopping up the last of my carbonara with the garlic breadsticks. "Random strangers, too. We'll be hanging out, doing our own thing, and people she's never met before will come up and tell her things about their lives that I wouldn't tell my therapist."

"You're kidding, right?," Dave smirked. He switched to a fake snivel, "Hi, my name's Dave, and my parents didn't love me enough."

"Worse, and I'm not kidding. When I was first getting to know her, it kinda scared me sometimes -"

"- but you gave me the ring anyway, how romantic," Cheri leaned in and we kissed briefly.

Dave dished us his usual good-natured hard time, "Come on, you guys, get a room!"

"No, that's so sweet," said a thin, high-pitched voice from over my left shoulder. We all turned to find the waitress had walked up beside me, unnoticed. "You have to treasure those moments. You know, my husband and I used to work at the same restaurant. I was a waitress and he was a cook. One day, I was just going on a break and he was back in the cooler, so I went back there to tell him. He was pulling some lettuce and he just put down the box, grabbed me up, gave me a big kiss, and said, 'I love you.' I was shocked - he didn't like to show his affection much, especially in public - but at least I told him, 'I love you, too.' He smiled and said, 'I know,' and went back to work, and I took my break."

"Five minutes later, someone came in to rob the place and shot him dead," she continued without even a quiver in her voice. "So, you really need to treasure the moments you have with people, because you never know when they'll be gone forever."

We waited in awkward silence.

She sighed deeply, and blinked as though coming out of a trance. "Any way, you want me to wrap that up? And I bet you guys are going to want some dessert - I'll check what we still have and come right back, okay?"

And with that she bustled off, oblivious to Dave and Jen staring after her.

"Case in point," I said, dropping my unfinished breadstick and pushing away my plate.

After a couple stunned blinks they turned back to us and noticed the wan smiles on our faces. Dave looked down, sheepish, then back in the direction the waitress had gone. "Wow. I am so sorry. I just didn't realize."

"It's okay, it happens," Cheri assured him. Then perking up a bit, she added, "But you've gotta admire the timing."


Thanks to DeadEyes for helping polish this up.

As I left work tonight, my mind was struggling over whether I should buy take-away dinner or what I should make for myself. So involved was I in this trifle, that I barely registered that there was something glaringly wrong with the picture to my left: Amidst all the faceless suits marching towards Victoria Station was a small, hunched figure, scurrying around in summery pyjamas. Even once I had registered the plight of this small being, societal indoctrination kept me on the straight and narrow path ahead of me. I was a tourist in Humanityville.

I praise God that she had more courage and approached me. She taught me that Victoria Street on a rainy February evening in summer pyjamas is preferable to a heroin detox clinic. I hope I am never in a position to confirm or deny that teaching. All she wanted was a few pence to spend the night in a Bed & Breakfast in Camden.

Society has taught me not to give money to homeless people because they use it for alcohol and drugs. Reading the Big Issue has taught me to help people to help themselves. I did my cowardly best and offered to buy her a ticket to Camden, on condition that she came with me to the station.

She said she was begging in Victoria so she could get enough money for Camden. Again I offered my conditional purchase of the ticket. Tears of frustration welled up in her eyes as she faced a person who wanted to help but offered a hindrance. It turns out that I am one of the fortunate majority who doesn't know that it is easier to beg for money in Victoria than it is in Camden. She was kind enough not to shatter the glass bubble in which I live by telling me.

She stood hunched and shivering before me, looking up at me through the tears in her big, beautiful eyes. I offered her my jumper and she accepted. But as I took off my bag, I realised that my jumper would not do her much good if she couldn't raise the cash to get off the street, so I offered her my coat instead. My £30 coat that I bought in Camden in October that was missing two buttons and about to lose a third.

The shivering birdlike frame in summer pyjamas told me I could not give it my coat. As I insisted I could, she continued to protest, and I felt ashamed. I thought about how all it had cost me was three hours' work. I thought about how the two jumpers I had underneath would keep me warm. I thought about how I could buy myself another on the way home if the fancy took me. I thought about how all she had on her tiny back was a pair of summer pyjamas and she was concerned about me giving up my coat.

As I helped her into it, we embraced. I'm not sure who hugged whom, but tears began to spill from my own eyes. Tears of shame; shame that I had not done more. Tears of brutal reality; remembering the one person I will always love more than most, who is a crack addict. Was she just a proxy for him? Would somebody give him a coat? Would I?

She was easy to hug: she was clean, small, eloquent, light-hearted. If she had been a six foot tall, aged man, who had not had the luxury of a shower for longer than either of us cared to imagine, what would I have done?

"God bless you" she said, "You have a good heart."

"So do you" I replied, as she went off ahead of me, drowned in my coat.

Then she came back: "God bless you" she said, "You have a good heart."

She came back one more time, before she headed off back into the faceless sea of workers, swimming against the tide.

The tears continued to flow like rivers down my cheeks as I slipped back into the commuter stream making its way to Victoria Station. My head was held high, defying the workers to look me in the eye. I was lost in self-righteousness.

It was only when I got to Clapham Junction and I stood on the platform in my two jumpers, feeling the cold, that I realised how little I had done. She could have used my hat -- I have three more at home. But mostly I could have taken her to Camden and paid for her room. All it would have cost me is two hours' wages.

I stood on the platform and I prayed to God that she got enough money to take my coat back to Camden, because without enough money for the B&B, she is sure to cross paths with someone who will offer her enough of a hit that she won't feel the cold until morning. All that she has gained in her few days in rehab, that were worse than standing on the rainy cold street in summer pyjamas, would be washed away in one euphoric shot.

Tonight, as I close my eyes, I pray again to God, and I thank Him for the friends that will look after me, that I won't need them to, that she had the courage I lacked (she needs it more than I do), but most of all, I thank God that I am a tourist in the grim reality of survival.

If I see her tomorrow, what will I do?

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