Home to Some
A passerby drops another quarter in his overturned hat. The generous currency barely makes a sound against the few other coins splayed about. Most pass by without giving him a second look, clearly enveloped in their own thoughts. Some stare at him, like he’s a real life alien, with only abnormally big eyes and a pursed mouth to stare back at them.
It isn’t cold in the train station, but he prefers to keep the aged coat on as a sense of security. His toes practically protrude through the shoes, found along with a pair of pants only a week ago in a dumpster outside one of the many apartment buildings in the city. With a little dishwasher soap and water from the river, the clothes are as good as new. Well, good enough for his liking.
The familiar sound of the nine-o-clock train disturbs the slight commotion in the subway, but not enough to break the faces of many away from their cell phones. Some folks stood right at the edge, eagerly awaiting the automated transportation. Others liked to stand in the back, still enjoying their coffee and reading one of the few newspapers still running in the city.
Grabbing the hat and pocketing the miniscule amount of change, he stood up and walks to stand beside one of the pillars for balance. His name is Bert Wyles. It sometimes took him a while to remember his own name. There aren’t many in the city that know him, or care to know him. The judging looks of many is all he needs to know how they felt inside about his outward appearance, though few had ever expressed their dislike to his face.
The train rushed into the subway so fast you’d think it would pass by without stopping. Harsh screeching slowed the train and quickly brought the carriage of steel to a creeping stop. The hiss of opening doors signals for the men and women to enter, and they do so without question.
Bert steps into the nearest opening. He avoids the standing poles, opting to sit at the very front of the train whenever possible. There were times when those who preferred standing judged who should stand and who shouldn’t, and forced him to sit with unnecessary aggression.
Bert doesn’t hate these people. He feels saddened by their unruly nature, but realizes his appearance is mostly to blame. He considers himself a wonderful person on the inside without the means to hold down a job like normal folks, or people, or whatever proper term describes them these days.
Another succession of hisses and the doors close, leaving those too late to catch the train left behind to fume in frustration. The inside jolts forward as the train quickly gains speed, heading for its next destination.
Some offered their newspaper to Bert from time to time, providing him with the only source of news he could get his hands on. He doesn’t have the convenience of the internet or television to keep him informed, leaving him in the proverbial dark concerning current issues.
Sitting in the very corner, Bert notices a newspaper lying under the vacant seat opposite him. He reached under the seat and unfolded the crumpled newspaper. Some of the pages are missing, but it’s good enough for him.
As he read through the newspaper, it seemed nothing had changed. More acts of violence from beatings to shootings in varied spots around the city. There is a quote from the Mayor, shamelessly plugging his re-election.
Bert preferred not to vote. His life had been turbulent and unpredictable, leaving him penniless and relying on charitable foundations. He wanted to make a change, but change is hard, and he wanted to wait until he felt up to it, whenever that would be.
He flipped over to the back of the newspaper, glad to find the comic strips intact. They seldom made him laugh, but he found them mildly entertaining.
The train ride lasted thirty minutes, arriving to pick up the next waiting group of men and women. Bert exited the train with the rest of the straight faced troupe. Some pushed their way past him, one almost knocking him down, too absorbed in their phone to look straight.
Bert clears the crowd and ascends the stairs to the sidewalk. The sun welcomes him with covered rays from behind one of the towering skyscrapers. Yellow taxi’s speed by when the traffic allows, frantic as they traverse the streets.
A countless number of people pass him daily, some adorning business clothes, others casual wear. He never talks to any of them, except to say thank you when one drops change in his hat as they pass by.
Bert crosses one of many busy intersections, heading for his usual spot to wait and collect change. It’s conveniently located close to a charity dorm and the subway. A bus passes behind him, plastered in a local company’s logo.
There’s little in the city to keep him here, aside from great roadside food. Yet, he hasn’t left the city in years. He isn’t sure of what to expect if he ever left. Would there be ways to get around? Who will take care of me?
The thoughts, while simple to some, are scary to him. He had become used to relying on others, and even the few friends he had made in charities around the city encouraged him to at least get some kind of work somewhere outside of the city.
Bert sat beside the steps, his overturned hat an invitation for extra change. He would sit for four hours then move to a second spot, and finally retire for the night in the crowded dorm. He is guaranteed a spot in the dorm only if he shows up early enough to get in. There were times when he had to sleep on a park bench or one of the subway’s many chairs bolted into the cement.
It isn’t until today that his hat looks emptier than ever before. Maybe it is time for a change, time for something different. A young woman passed by and dropped four quarters in his hat. Maybe.