They’re dotted here and there down Brainerd Road, those little employment places. You show up one day and write your credentials down on a piece of paper. Tell them you know how to drive a nail, or you’ve picked up roofing debris before. Show them the work boots on your feet and lie about your habits. Then you wait. Sometimes the work shows up for you and sometimes it doesn’t.
If the work shows up, that’s good. You get to go clean up construction sites for eight bucks an hour. But if it’s not there by noon. you might as well go on home. I sat alone in the room with the church lady humming her songs until a little after noon. It was still drizzling rain outside and like I suspected, no work showed up. I’d had enough, was pissed off about wasting what little money I had on the cab and told the church lady I was going home. I walked out to the bus stop. A dollar-fifty will usually get you within walking distance to home on CARTA.
I got out to the bus stop and looked up and down the road. No buses were coming. They come around in 15- or 20-minute intervals, a little slower if the weather’s bad. The rain let up some and I resigned myself to the wait. I’d been waiting in jail for days, in the jail-like dead-end employment office for hours—waiting for the bus only seemed natural.
A skinny teenage girl came down the sidewalk behind me with a bundled-up sleeping baby in a stroller. She parked the baby beside me and I looked down at it. The little kid was dry and looked warm. I looked up at the girl behind the stroller. She was a very pretty, small black girl—couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. She parked the stroller and started bartering with some other kids there who had a bag of candy. “Can I have one?” she asked them. She put her hand in her pocket. “I’ll give you a piece of my bubble gum?” The pretty young girl caught me watching their bargaining and laughed at me. “You want a piece of bubble gum, too?”
I smiled no, put my hands in my pocket and turned away.
“I got a bad cold comin’ on—need to get on out this weather.” This skinny old white woman in a ball cap and blue jean jacket and a voice like sandpaper was talking to whoever was listening. I knew quick that I didn’t want to hear her complain and took a few steps toward this other old white woman sitting on a bench there.
She was grossly overweight and had two or three plastic Dollar General Store bags at her feet. A yellow toboggan covered her head and short grey hair stuck out from under it. She wore a khaki trench coat and khaki pants. Blue Reebok sneakers were on her feet. She kept her head bowed and picked at her eyes with her fingernails. She must have known I was looking at her and glanced up at me real quick—her eyes were dark, like a hole in a wall that looks into night—then she looked back down just as fast, picking at her eyes again. When she looked at me. I saw a flesh-colored band-aid across her cheek.
From the parking lot behind us an old white man walked up with a red buggy full of Dollar Store groceries. From the neck down, he looked like he just punched out from a day of working behind a desk at a bank, but his worn-out face looked like his liver most likely did. He had a brown paper-bagged 40-ounce he didn’t try to hide from any of us, but he did glance around for cop cars when he pulled it out.