Before the median of the wet pavement stood a lanky man holding a plastic bucket. His eyes focused on a distorted reflection produced by the puddle of water and oil beneath his feet. The storm, one from which he lacked a refuge, had ended not five minutes before. Small beads of water still dripped from his tattered clothing.
The motorists had returned to the road, of course, as they consistently did during this period of the day. Although the fact was unbeknownst to some, they were indebted, and the lanky man would be collecting today.
Steam ascended from the asphalt as a dark cloud parted overhead. The sun's radiant warmth graced the man's windburned skin as he looked to the traffic light, shivering with angst. It would turn red at any moment. The cars passed apathetically, showering him with water and their putrid exhaust. So many of them would scurry home to their families in their luxurious cars and even more astonishing houses, whereas he would return only to a desolate concrete bridge.
The lanky man winced and touched his face, dropping the bucket. It was here that the woman had robbed him of his dignity a week before. Clad in a black leather jacket, she slashed him ruthlessly and demanded everything.
"I have nothing for you," he said to her. "Look at me."
Not one to be sympathetic, she had drawn the silver blade. After the woman had finished, he sat devastated in the pool of warm blood and saltwater.
The man's eyelids opened to reveal his pale, brown eyes. He looked to the street. What seemed like a hundred cars were stopped, each impatient driver waiting for the inevitable change. With the bucket in hand, he knocked on the window of the first car in line.
The driver turned to him, his hatred evident, then returned to the steering wheel. To the next car he walked, his ambition unwavering.
"Could you spare some change?" he asked the driver of the red minivan.
"When hell freezes over," the man jeered, flicking cigarette ashes onto the ground.
The lanky man dropped the bucket, scoffed in frustration, and walked hastily to a convenience store. It was miniscule, poorly lit, and perhaps quite filthy, but the store served his purposes adequately. He wasn't claustrophobic. The door slammed behind him as he entered.
"Stranger, hey!" greeted the cashier. "So, uh, will it be the usual today?"
"Yeah-" he glanced at the man's nametag "-Roger, yes."
"I've got something real good for you," said Roger as he produced a six-pack of beer. "You check this out. It's my best stuff, honest."
"I'll take it," replied the man inattentively.
Roger looked into his eyes. "Well, man, ain't you even gonna look at it?"
"Just ring me up."
The cashier chuckled. "See some ID, please?"
"Just joking, man," said Roger in response to the lanky man's scowl, "It'll be eight dollars. You know, you never say anything about yourself."
The man slid a five-dollar bill across the counter.
"Not much this week, I see. Ah, well, money doesn't buy happiness. We're cool. Where did you get this money? Did you mug an old lady walking her dog?"
"Smith Street," the man sighed. "And I don't want happiness. Just need the closest thing to it, and that's what I'm buyin'."