Spare Change

Illustration by Max Sharikov

I was stopped by two men. I couldn’t tell if they were homeless, only that they stank of alcohol – which is not a state exclusive to the homeless, but many attribute one to the other.
“Hey buddy,” said the first. I was, at once, wary as I am always wary of anyone unfamiliar who calls me by familiar terms like “buddy” – or anyone familiar, for that matter. “Can you spare some change for the bus?”

I gathered that he wanted to ride the bus, though he had falsely identified himself as the bus, asking for change “for the bus” and expecting change in return.

Furthermore, his hand was not extended as one would expect, but instead clutched a lit cigarette. Besides alcohol, he stank of cigarettes. Upon which I based my reply:
“I don’t have any change to spare. I spent it all on cigarettes.”

I felt smug for the moment, and then a rush of panic. The two men had evidently caught on to the disrespectful tone of my wise remark, and their expressions shifted from the friendly side that had called me “buddy” to the aggressive side that would sooner take than ask.

It was then that I became aware of my surroundings, a dark alley off the main road, and of the apparent danger in which I had placed myself.