Spare Change with Bullets

by

01/31/2004

W 113th St & Morningside Dr, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Harlem

A slightly built African-American man in a standard-issue beige trenchcoat murmured as we passed on the street.

“Say, you wouldn’t mind giving the time of day to a Black man?”

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m just here at St. Luke’s, you see, for the methadone program, and I have to get home, and the buses, they require exact change now.”

“So, you want bus fare?”

“You know, we’ve never met, and probably never will again. Our lives are so different; this is just a total accident that we should be talking like this” He went on for a while, and then, in the same friendly and confidential tone, “probably you’ve noticed, my hand’s in my pocket. I have a gun. I’d take it out to show you, but you don’t seem like the sort who’d need to see it. You know I don’t want to hurt you. It’s so odd our meeting like this. We never will again, you living where you do and me in East Harlem … “

My wallet was out by now. I knew I had only five dollars, hardly enough to repay the risk he was taking.

“Oh, and it’s loaded. I’ll show you the bullets if you want, but you know I don’t want to hurt you. I just need to get home. We’ll never see each other again — just two strangers. Our lives, just like before. So different.”

I showed him the wallet, gave him the five. “Oh, thank you very much, sir.” He did not seem to want the wallet, my watch, anything else. We started to walk away from each other.

Now a street’s width apart he said, “Wait a minute, mister. They require exact change. on the bus. Don’t you have any change?”

1973

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