“Don’t drop me at the corner. Go up two blocks and turn right. I wanna show you something,” he said, picking up the Chicken Nuggets box and the plastic barbecue sauce packets, sucking the last life out of his giant soda and cramming it all into the McDonald’s bag.
She liked it that he bussed his side of the car. He was neat, didn’t expect other people to clean up after him. That’s important, to be tidy, no matter what life throws at you. She started to say this, compliment him on his good behavior and stretch it to fit the rest of his foul life. There are lessons in everything if you look, she thought, but she held back, worried that he’d take it the wrong way, that he might think she didn’t accept him the way he is.
“After I turn right, how far do I go? What’s the address?” Going someplace different was unnerving. She wished he would just stick to what they were used to doing.
“I dunno the address. It’s the third house on the left. The green one. Right there. See? You can park right in front behind that truck. I know the guy that has that truck. He’s a friend of mine. He helped me move my stuff.”
“You moved your stuff? She slid the car into the space behind the truck, snapped off the ignition and turned in her seat to look at him, full face. “You moved your stuff? Here? The place is boarded up. You can’t live in a house that’s boarded up!”
“It’s okay. It’s nice in there. And the back window is unlocked. Easy peasy gettin’ in and out. Don’t have to carry a key around, you know? It’s great.” He laughed another of his big laughs. Oh, everything was hilarious to him, every mistake, wrong day, missed appointment, relapse, lying friend, stolen shoes, all just part of a big running joke.
“I thought the plan was for you to get some place decent, someplace with a case manager.”
“This is decent enough for me. I don’t need nothin’ more decent. It’s good. It’s fine. You want to come in and see?” His hand was on the door handle. His smile looked iffy like a kid apologizing to his mother for having other friends. He opened the door a crack.
She fingered the phone in her lap, pushed the button so the screen would light up, made him wait while she checked for a text, an email, opened Facebook like she would find, in one of those places, the thing that would change how crazy this was. She shook her head. She was a cab driver in a bad neighborhood dropping off a fare who can’t pay. That’s all she was. Used. Just a used person.
“You should be happy for me.” He grinned at her, stuck out his hand for a handshake. “I’m movin’ on up, as they say. A step at a time. Takin’ one step at a time. Be glad, sister. It’s all good.”
“Okay. Right. It’s all good. Good luck. I have to go.” She started the car, looked over at him moving his thick self out the door, first one limb and then another like he was squeezing through a porthole of a big ship. He bent over and looked in on her. It was that last salutation he always gave. She waited for it. This ritual at the end of their trip to McDonald’s.
“You’re a fine friend to me. Comin’ here and never askin’ for nothin’ in return. Bless you.”