“Come take a swig, man!” Pyro called out, the light dancing on his wiry beard to the rough cadence of his voice.
“Just a second,” Adel replied quickly, then he turned back to his conversation with Andrew.
“Why get a beer if you’re not going to take a swig?” Pyro muttered as he lifted the bottleneck protruding from the brown paper bag to his mouth. Some of the pale gold liquid splashed out on his threadbare t-shirt, but he didn’t notice. He had more important things on his mind. He shifted into a more comfortable position against the wall of the Skewerz bar, put his feet up on the pile of blankets nearby. “Anybody got a cigarette?”
This time Adel ignored Pyro completely. He lifted his black folder and opened it up to reveal a clipboard and a pad of paper. “I wrote a new rhyme yesterday,” he told Andrew, his eyes and voice conveying a mixture of pride and defeat. “It’s based on what happened to one of my friends. His best friend got sick of life and laid down on the tracks and let a train run over him.” He looked at the ground, bit his lip, shook his head.
“Did you know him well?” Andrew asked, compassion running deep in his voice.
Adel shook his head some more. “No, but he was my friend’s best friend, you know?” he answered. “And I wish I could have gotten to know him. I wish I could ask him why he wanted to just give up on his life like that.”
I didn’t know what to say. I stood next to Andrew, taking in the living space these men had made in the corner between the Blue Line terminal and Skewerz. The rough cement sidewalk was covered by a few colorful sheets, and various boxes and bags, the guys’ “gear”, were scattered over the makeshift carpet. There were a few cardboard signs tossed in a pile to the side, tired from a long day of pleading for food and money and peace and love from the endless, ever-moving crowds. In the center of the area was Pyro’s footrest: the pile of blankets that Andrew and I had delivered moments before.
Those blankets reminded me of my blankets on my bed in my dorm, the blankets I crawl under every night without another thought. Jackie looked like she’d one the lottery when we handed her those big, fluffy squares of cloth, thrilled that tonight wouldn’t be as cold as last night. Jackpot.
“Do you guys stay here every night?” Andrew asked Adel.
“No, sometimes we’re here, but we have a couple other spots we use. One of the guys who runs with us, he has a place to live. We stay with him sometimes.” Adel stopped and smiled, a look of anticipation in his eyes. “I won’t be here for long, though,” he added. “I’m saving up to go to California.”
“What’s waiting for you in California?” Andrew asked cheerfully.
Adel shrugged. “Opportunity,” he grinned, excitement shining in his voice, on his face. “I know a guy there, he works in clubs, DJing and stuff. I like that kind of stuff. Maybe I can find a special school for that.”
“Yeah, man,” Andrew agreed, nodding. There was a moment of silence, then Andrew spoke. “Hey, listen, I’ve got to get back to school now. Will you guys be here on Sunday?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Adel assured him. “I’ll see you then.” Then he turned to me, held out his hand, smiled one of the most sincere smiles I’ve ever seen. “It was nice to meet you, Tim.”
I said my goodbyes to all of them. Shawn, Jackie, Pyro, Shadow, their firm handshakes and friendly smiles seeing me off. As I walked back through the doors into the subway station, I could feel my collared polo shirt burning my skin beneath my green hooded sweatshirt. I had a drawer full of them in the dorm. I had a drawer. Adel’s words echoed in my head. I know a guy… he has a place to live… saving up to go to California… opportunity… got sick of life… let a train run over him…
I had a hard time getting comfortable in my bed that night. At least I thought it was hard. I think a bright young DJ trying to get comfortable under his new blanket on the ground near the blue line would have said otherwise.