Time to Settle Accounts
December 6, 2011: Exchanging glances.
The moon was high when I left Jesse’s house after a night of chess and chess strategy and conversation, and rather than grabbing the Blue Line at California I decided to walk home down Milwaukee. The wind was cold against my beard and the padding in my winter coat was warm against my body. Milwaukee was dark and settled and quiet and plastic bags blew in the street from curb to curb. Monday morning, 4:30 a.m.
I crossed Western. A car turned left in front of me, wheeling into the McDonald’s drive-thru. To my right I saw travelers standing on the Western Blue Line platform, waiting for the train. I carried on, past the intersection. I was half way between Western and Damen when the train finally passed. Across the street at Odd Obsession videos three men stood outside smoking cigarettes. One of them appeared to be watching me, his head rotating as I walked. A man and his dog stepped out of an apartment door and walked past me. “Morning,” the man said.
Finally I crossed to the other side of Milwaukee. Up ahead in a bus stop, just west of the six corners, a brown paper bag fell to the ground. It said WHOLE FOODS on it. It was empty and one of its straps was torn. I looked up and saw an old woman handling two other bags, one smaller, blue, mesh, the other larger, white, cloth. Her hair was white. She wore a blue windbreaker and had two silver teeth on her bottom row and stepped toward me out of the bus stop as I passed.
“How much?” she said as she tapped her wrist. I looked at her quizzically. “How much clock?” she said in an eastern European accent. I pulled my phone out of the inside pocket of my thick winter coat. 4:53 a.m.
“It’s ten minutes to five,” I said, placing my phone back in my pocket.
“In ten it five?”
“Yes ma’am, five a.m. In ten minutes it will be five a.m.”
“Yes,” she said, nodding with a smile. She turned back toward the street and held her bags firmly. You know what, I thought, and I pulled my phone back out of my pocket and checked bus tracker. “Excuse me,” I said. She turned around. “The bus will be here in seven minutes. Seven,” I said again, holding up seven fingers and then pointing in the direction the bus would travel.
“Seven?” she said. I nodded. She smiled and said “Thank.”
I curled around the intersection from Milwaukee to North and walked west to Hoyne. The sun was now faintly visible. Up ahead the North Ave. bus was rumbling toward me. I crossed North Ave. and walked on Hoyne, my block for four years, going on five. At Pierce I crossed paths with a young man walking east toward Hoyne. He wore a thick winter coat and no hat. I tipped mine to him. “Travelers of the night,” I said.
“You too,” he said, and on his way he went.
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