You’ve been sitting on the same bench for the past three and a half hours. The Salt Lake City summer heat has baked your clothes onto you until you feel like you’ve always been wearing these clothes, you were born in these clothes, they are your second, foul smelling husk caked with dust and birdshit and lord knows what else. Your hair lies in filthy, sweaty locks and keeps falling into your eyes. You wish to god you had something to tie it back with.
It boggles your mind, how such a little thing like heat can make a day so miserable. You tell yourself you’ve had worse, heat was better than fucking freezing, but are tired down to your marrow, you haven’t eaten since yesterday, and the cup of ice water you scored at the cafe feels like it happened an eon ago.
You lock eyes on some hipster looking kid who is determined not to look at you and manage a smile.
“Listen dogg, I know what this is looking like.” Your tongue feels dry and sluggish and no amount of swallowing will help. “You’re all thinking I’m gonna use the cash you give me on booze or some shit. Honest to god, I just want on a Greyhound.”
He walks past you without comment. People have been giving you a wide berth all day. One woman took one look at you and crossed the street even though it was jay walking. You sigh and wish you knew a good place to shower, maybe sew up the ragged hole in your jeans that one of your scabby knees is poking out of.
You’re certain the next city will be better. This one is full of bad vibes and bad memories and a few people you should probably avoid until they’re feeling a little friendlier toward you. Everywhere you look there are cafes shutting down and thrift stores going out of business. The used bookstore with the free book bin shut down just last week. That made you sad as hell.
What businesses are thriving won’t hire someone who looks like he’s been under a bridge. You can’t even find work as a dishwasher. It just goes to show you that, despite optimistic newspaper headlines about employment rates rising, this year’s economy is just as shitty as last year’s and the year before that and the year before that.
All you need to do is squeeze one last $2.45 out of this hellhole. You sit there, your chin propped in your hands as you implore for that last bit of change.
“Just a few quarters, man? I’m so motherfucking close, you have no idea.”
You bite your tongue. Someday you’ll get out of the habit of blurting out the MF word whenever it wants you to.
You go ahead and voice your train of thought anyway, because you figure nobody’s listening at this point. No one’s gonna talk to the dude whose eyes are desperate behind the too cheerful grin. You shift your weight to relieve your numb bottom and stare at this one empty window across the street with naked mannequins all in it. You wouldn’t think a place like Salt Lake City would allow that.
“I already pawned all my shit, even my books. That I used on drugs, I even have a bit more to last until the next city. I use it like anyone uses it though, like some fine wicked spice, I don’t blow up my brains with it or try and find god or anything.”
“Have you, um, tried finding god?”
For a second it doesn’t click that this mumbly, hesitant voice is addressing you. You glance up and next to you is this adorable kid in a wheelchair, ginger haired and freckled all over, wearing clean pants and a crisp white shirt. He’s carrying one of those familiar tiny black books with gold lettering and you start laughing.
“Not lately, brother.”
“O-oh. Um. Would you like to?”
You stare at him. He can’t be older than eighteen. He is looking at you in this funny way, his eyebrows all furrowed up with pity like he doesn’t know what to do with you even as he favors you with a sweet, shy grin. He has braces. Your eyes keep flicking back to his hair—it’s not all clean cut like most Mormon kids you see. It kinda sticks up all weird, like it’s trying to grow in a way the kid can’t quite comb down.
He’s the first person who’s paid attention to you all day, let alone smile like that, and you instantly love him for it.
“Yeah, sure, I’d love to get my talk on about something that way.”
He smiles brighter. “Okay! It’s way too hot to be out here like this. Have you had lunch yet? Would you maybe want to talk over cold drinks? Do you like soda? I can, uh, buy.”
You blurt a laugh. “You kidding? Hell yes, I dig soda. Uh. Sorry, heck. Wait, hold up—I thought you kids weren’t drinking shi—stuff with caffeine all in it.”
His eyes flicker to yours and his smile turns a touch devious. “Well. I have to wear braces, can’t I ruin my teeth just a little bit?”
“Aww, heheh, okay. Hey, I like you. What’s your name?”
“Well, Tavbro, my name is Gamzee M. Makara, and I ain’t telling you what the M is for ‘cause it’s not a word you say when you’re in nice company. You go ahead and lead on, let’s see what wicked miracles you and me can be all uncovering.”