Forty Dollar Bill
Sinmi Araoye 40 Dollar Bill
I had seen him earlier, at the stoplight while waiting to cross the road. His shoulder stooped low like the plastic bags in his hands dragged him down. Now he was seated in the brown shed, his shoulder still stooped, with the bags sitting on the ground between his legs. He looked up as I approached, then he looked down at his hands resting on his thighs. I leaned across him trying to see the board. I still could not see the board. I could smell the stench of alcohol emanating from his breathe. Excuse me, I said, I need to check the time the bus comes. He scooted over a bit to the left and looked up to the right to read the timetable mounted on the right wall. Here, here, he said, the next one comes here, as he pointed at a time long gone. No, the bus comes here. I tried to help him navigated timetable. I looked at my watch, if I was right the bus should be here in another three minutes. Sit down. He scooted a bit more to the left. I don t need to sit down
but, thank you.
Okay. He turned away from me and started rummaging through his bag. Out came a light blue pouch with an Indian American feather headdress pictured on it and a square can. He opened the can and lightly pulled out a white paper. He opened the blue pouch and fingered brown stringy dried leaves. He kept picking at the leaves until he had the right amount. He placed the brown leaves on the white paper. I moved away from the shed to a low wall and perched. I put in ear-buds until I heard him. Can I ask you a question? he yelled at me from his place in the shed. The rolled up cigarette was in his hands, unlit. What is the difference between OB and PB, anyway? Heh Did you say OB and PB? I asked as I moved towards him. I stopped a few feet away in case he decided to start smoking. Yeah, yeah, it seems to me like the same, right? Well, OB is Ocean Beach and PB is Pacific Beach. Yeah, but it is still the same water, right? Hmm, yeah, they are on coast of the same ocean, in different spots. You see my shirt?
I have seen your church? No No, no, my shirt he said, standing up gingerly from the brown metal bench in the shed and walking towards me. He began to open his beige bomber jacket. My shirt has Route 66 all over it, he showed me the insignia and the reproduced map he wore on his body. That is a lovely shirt. A really pretty shirt Yeah, VA gave it to me today. You know VA, dontcha? Yeah, I do. Well, the fucking lady doctor I saw up there, she gone fucking pissed me off, ya know?! Well
I am sure she was just trying to help you. She was just trying to help
you. Well, she don t help me at all. She fucking refused to give me my lithium. She said because I was .05 on the Breathalyzer. I only had one beer this morning, just one beer. Well
I am sure she was just trying to help you.
The goddamn woman
he muttered out loud. She said I was drunk. She
did not give me the lithium. He walked back to the shed and picked up a lighter from the bench. Then, he walked back towards me. You want some cookies? Nah, I am fine. You sure? I have some good chocolate chip cookies. Nah, I ate already. Can t eat anymore today. Why not? You only got a 40 dollar bill arse on you. Well, maybe an 80 dollar bill. Eh
Don t get offended. That s a compliment in South Louisiana. I am from there. Well
40 Dollar Bill
He walked back to his bag and sat on the metal bench. He flicked his lighter and lit the rolled-up cigarette in his hand. He took a long draw and blew out a steady stream of grey smoke that tinted the darkening air. Here, here, come and sit down he said as he patted the space next to him. He put the cigarette in his mouth and took another long draw. No, I am fine here. Been sitting down all day. I have to sit down at work. Where you work at? Downtown, one of the offices there. Damn, sounds like a fine job to me. God! Them people want me to work. But I can t get no job except in some shitty place like McDonald s, Blockbuster or some of those crazy places Hmm Well
He said, as if resigned to the fact. Me and my friend, Big Willy,
gonna make it. We don t need no shitty job. Then he took another draw of the cigarette. You know my friend, Big Willy, I ain t seen him in almost six months. Some people told me that he was dead already. Dead and gone. He took a draw of the cigarette and flicked the wilted butt into the black asphalt road in front of him. When I went to the hospital today, I saw Big Willy. The man was in a hospital bed. He ain t dead, yet. Nah. My man is still alive. We was talking and Big Willy had to go to the bathroom. By the time he came back, some man had come and eaten his food. That is sad. I said as I looked behind me. I could see cars coming around the corner but no bus. Yeah, the bus here, they be running late all the time. And then when they show up, all three buses show up at the same time. It s crazy.
I walk everywhere. I looked at his feet and noticed he had on a pair of
walking shoes. I walk everywhere. When I was in Louisiana, I was 225 pounds. Went to the doctor. The man told me I had to lose some weight or I would die.
I am now 150. I used to walk around the track. He rested his head on his hands and seemed to scrub his eyes like he was trying to clear a fog. I looked away. Two girls walked pass me and he raised his head when he heard their flip-flops slap the ground. He looked at them. He kept looking and his head swiveled slowly following their hips as they went pass the shed. His eyes seem to move with their body like their hips was a pendulum hypnotizing him. As I watched him watch the sashay of their backsides, he recovered. He turned to me, they only have ass like a 20 dollar bill. I smiled at him. Do you have a boyfriend or a husband? Yeah. I am going to my boyfriend s. Ha. You have girlfriends? Yeah. I live with my girlfriends. Are they single? No, I don t think anyone of us is. That is the thing I hate about this fucking place. All the good women are taken
he said, getting agitated with each syllable. All the good ones are taken until you find yours. I tried to soothe him. You just end up with a fucking whore of a woman who has venom in her
mouth and wants to kill you with it, he said, almost shuddering in the spite of his words. Hmm What s your name? Me I am Sara. My name is Kenneth Lee. Is that a Southern name? Yeah. My papa named me after Jerry Lee Lewis. I am from Louisiana, you know. I make good Cajun food.
40 Dollar Bill
Oh... Yeah, I make good jambalaya. I had that a couple of times. Man! He shook his head in lament, I used to own a small restaurant down in Louisiana. How are you here now? I couldn t take it anymore. It was like fighting day in and day out after Katrina. He looked away from me and stared straight ahead into the night. The cars driving past in front of him broke his gaze. My boy and his mother, they died in Katrina. I am so sorry to hear that, I said feeling guilty I had started this line of conversation. I used to call him my 7/7 boy because he was born on July 7th. It was just after his 17th birthday. That boy used to love to play ball. We played ball all the time and he used to walk with me. We used to go around and around the track. He looked at me, I got tired of fighting. It seems like that all there ever was. No, I couldn t do it again. I couldn t. I am sorry. He blinked. Maybe I'mma call my lawyer tomorrow. He hasn t sent me my insurance money yet. I want to open a small restaurant, here. A little food, a little music. I mma call it Kenneth s Cajun Kitchen. All with a K. That sounds good. In fact, I think I'mma call my cousin tomorrow. Maybe he can loan me some money so that I can start my own place. I nodded my head. I looked at the man. I doubted him; I doubted his intentions. I was not sure this man could do it anymore. He looked like a shell. He was disheveled but clean. His hair was almost snowy white and wiry. He carried a ton within him. That ton, not the bag, seemed to be what pushed him closer to the ground. S.Araoye
I play six instruments. You should come and watch me. I play with a jazz band on Tuesday nights at this place in Pacific Beach. I am trying to remember
snapped his fingers, willing his memory to function. Damn, I can t remember. You ll. Soon Anyway, one time, I went to Vegas. I went to this club and I was gonna perform. I signed up and before me, this woman got on stage. Her mouth was filthy. I know I say bad words but she was saying some bad bad words. I mean I can t repeat them in front of a woman like you. But I must say that she had them laughing. Those people there had a good time. He stood up and got animated. He had arms lifted and his right hand fisted like he held a microphone in front of his mouth. I said look, I know you guys just listened to this lady. I don t know how I'mma light you people up after her. Then he pointed into the night like he had an audience in the yonder, she started to heckle me. She was sitting in the crowd . He shook his head and pointed into the night with his left hand, she was using some bad bad words. She was shouting get off the stage, you sissy. I was angry but that woman she was bad. She was very bad. He sat down gingerly on the metal bench. He bent down and reached into his bag. He pulled out a round glass bottle of apple juice. He put his head back and poured a bit in his mouth. He screwed the cap back on the bottle and put the bottle in the bag. Do you live around here? he asked me. I nodded my head. Why do you live here when you work downtown? It is fast to get there by bus. I go early in the morning and come back early in the afternoon. When you gonna buy a car? I don t think so. I mean if I need a car, I rent one. Besides, gas is too expensive. Well, price of gas went down a bit today. Well, even with that, it did not go below three dollars a gallon. Well, I don t think it is ever gonna go below three, he said to me.
40 Dollar Bill
Yeah, I know. Good thing I like riding the bus and I don t really enjoy driving anyway. People around here in San Diego don t really know how to drive. I looked back to see if the bus was coming. I could see the headlights of the bus. It was here, thirty minutes later than I had expected. Can I ask you a question? he said. I looked at him surprised. He had me question after question. Why the sudden shyness? I know you are not really suppose to ask a lady. But, how old are you? I thought about it. Do I want to seem older or younger than my actual age. I walked towards the bus that had just stopped. People climbed down the stairs as I waited at the base to ascend. Twenty-two I said. I don t know if he heard me. I could not see him. I got on the bus and found an open space. Someone sat next to me. The bus driver closed the door and then opened it again. Kenneth struggled up the stairs and opened his wallet. Out came a bundle of cash, he paid his fares and walked further into the bus. He sat down in a seat facing a window. I could see his profile. He seemed to crumble into the plastic blue chair and hugged his bag. The person sitting next to him moved away, trying not to touch him. I watched him