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Of Money Matters and Sordid Affairs
“…and that is why we must force ourselves to address the issue of poverty and homelessness in our city,” I concluded.
I finally looked up at the board members sitting at the long table in front of me, hoping to gauge their reaction. What I saw was not at all promising. Men and women sat in front of me staring every which way, far from focused on me or the packet of information that I had provided them with. Immediately, I felt a rush of disappointment. I had worked so hard to get my message this far, to the town council. It had taken months and months of research and writing, and it seemed as if it were all for nothing in that split second.
Feeling hopeless, I began to close up my display, a brightly colored tri-fold board with information splashed across its wide surface.
“Thank you,” I murmured as I headed out the door.
“Wait,” one of the men in the room said quickly.
I turned around sharply, hope filling me again. I was going to be disappointed, however.
“Don’t forget your purse,” the man mumbled, pointing in the direction of my bag.
My shoulders caved and blush filled my cheeks as I grabbed my purse and almost sprinted out of the building. I reached the exit just in time as tears began to spill over. Quickly, I turned the nearest corner and hid in a dark alleyway. I refused to be seen crying by the snotty businesspeople that I saw walking around. As I sniffled in the darkness, I felt a form approaching. I turned to find the familiar face of Sal staring down at me. Sal was one of the homeless, impoverished people I had just been talking about at that meeting. I had met him during my research and volunteer work at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and we had become fast friends. He was more than a foot taller than me, so I had to look up to see his face as it towered over me.
“How did it go, Miss Jane?” he inquired.
“I wish that you wouldn’t call me ‘Miss’,” I moaned.
“Not well then, I guess,” he said, frowning, “did they even pay attention to what you had to say this time?”
“Not a bit, Sal,” I whispered brokenly, “not one bit.”
He slid his arm around my shoulders comfortingly.
“Don’t worry about it, Miss Jane,” he said consolingly, “there’s always another meeting.”
“You always say that, Sal,” I muttered.
“Only because it’s true,” he replied, grinning, “come on now, I’ll walk you home.”
Once home, I heated up some dinner for myself and curled up on the couch. A warm dinner is the best way to solve your problems, especially being rejected again from another board of politicians. As I spooned the soup into my mouth, I thought about my presentation, and what could make them listen. All I found was a great big blank. Nothing could make them listen if they didn’t want to, and all they needed to do was so simple. Distributing more food and clothing wouldn’t take up much more of the city’s budget, and neither would building another homeless shelter. There were dozens of abandoned buildings in the downtown area that could be restored and used for such a purpose. However, the politicians that I talked to never wanted to see that through. Was there a way to convince them to donate their time or money, or was I just wasting my time?
I tossed the dirty dishes into the sink in my small kitchen. In my apartment, the kitchen is not the only room that is small. I don’t mind though; the space that I have is more than enough for me. Growing up as a foster child, I was used to terrible living conditions and sometimes being kicked out onto the street for days on end. That was why I dedicated my life to these homeless people. I knew how it felt to have no place to go home to, and now that I could support myself, it was only fair that I help them too.
As I got ready for bed, thoughts whirled through my head about the meeting I had tomorrow. Another day, another board of politicians who would not listen to me. Maybe Sal could be right, maybe he did hold some knowledge under those pretty, brown locks of his, but I banished that though as soon as it entered my mind. It would be of no use to set myself up for disappointment. I drifted off into a restless sleep.
“Maybe another time, Miss Martin. It’s just that we’re a little short on money right now and…”
“It’s fine,” I said coldly to the man ushering me out of the room. “Maybe another time.”
“Of course, of course,” he assured me. “Have a nice day now!”
Leaving behind the short, jovial man, I stormed out of the building. Normally I would be embarrassed by a failure such as this one, but today I was just angry. My heeled shoes clicked sharply against the pavement as I rushed home. Suddenly, someone darted out in front of me and brought me to a screeching halt. I looked up to see that it was Sal who had grabbed my arms. Sal, the last person that I wanted to see right now in my current emotional state. Of course he would be the one to find me first.
“How did it go, Miss Jane?” he asked, smiling down at me.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I muttered tersely in reply.
Tearing myself out of his grip, I hurried in the direction of my apartment.
“Hey, wait up!” he cried.
He caught up to me easily, what with his long legs, and began his usual interrogation.
“What happened?” he demanded, shocked by my previous reaction.
“Nothing,” I replied truthfully, “the same as always. Nothing!”
“Then why is it different this time?” Sal asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, still walking fast, “maybe it’s the sheer number of times I’ve been rejected. Maybe the futility of it all. Maybe I believed that you were right, and that something would happen. I don’t know!”
“I’m sorry that I got your hopes up,” he murmured.
I stopped short when he said this, and he stopped to stand in front of me.
“It’s not your fault, Sal,” I said harshly. “It’s theirs. It’s always theirs!”
He watched in shock as I let the floodgates to my emotions fall open.
“They don’t want to help only because they want to keep their freaking money to themselves!” I screamed at him.
“Come on now,” Sal said soothingly, “that’s not tr—“
“Yes it is true, and you know it, Sal,” I interrupted. “Those stingy b*****ds. They are the reason that you suffer!”
“I’m sure that’s not true of all of them,” he said, placating.
“Yeah, sure, Sal. Just the overwhelming majority,” I said bitterly.
“Don’t call me that!” I yelled, my temper rising again. “I just want them all to realize what stupid, useless people they are! Can’t anyone see that? They don’t do anything that’s worth something. They just sit there talking about what can earn them more money, and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the way these people talk to me; I’m sick of how much money they waste on themselves when it could be doing some good, and I’m sick of how you have to live because of it! It’s all so unfair!”
My temper ran out there, and I was left breathing hard, standing there in front of a gaping Sal.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I muttered.
“Like what?” he asked quietly.
“Like you don’t know who I am. Like I scare the hell out of you.”
He took a step toward me, pondering my words, and then he smiled.
“But you do scare the hell out of me, Jane,” he murmured, stepping so close that I could feel the heat of his body against mine.
I had to tilt my head all the way back in order to see his face. I smiled at him.
“You called me ‘Jane’,” I observed, laughter in my eyes.
“Well, it is your name, isn’t it?” he replied cheekily.
And with that, he leaned down toward me, and his lips touched mine. His arms wrapped around me, and I felt safe there. Safe away from the world of horrible politicians and world crises. So safe that nothing could ever touch me, not so long as I was in Sal’s arms. Eventually, his arms loosened, and he pulled away.
“Oh,” I murmured, putting my fingers to my lips, “that…that…”
“I know,” he whispered.
We pulled away from each other, only keeping hold of one another’s hand, and he walked me home, just as usual.
Sal and I sat curled up on my tiny sofa after another useless meeting.
“I just wish that they would notice me,” I groaned, “at least pay attention to what I have to say. I mean, what does it take for a girl to get a little respect anymore?”
Sal grinned down at me as I continued my little rant.
“Do I need to, I don’t know, dress up more? Put on more makeup? Become a supermodel? What would make these people listen?”
“You could always act like a homeless person and not shower for weeks,” Sal joked, “that would get their attention for sure.”
“Very funny, Sal,” I said angrily as he guffawed, but I smiled too.
He quieted down after a while, and I lay there silently in his arms.
“You know, if it means anything,” he murmured, “I think you’re worth everyone’s notice.”
I squirmed around in his arms so I could see his face, and smiled.
“Of course it does, Sal,” I replied fervently. “It means the world.”
That was the last time that I saw Sal.
I strolled down the street outside my apartment, headed for the local soup kitchen. Dressed comfortably in jeans and a tee shirt, I was ready to face whatever challenges I may find there, though none could be worse than the board meeting that I had gone to this morning. One man actually had the indecency to fall asleep during my presentation, and I had been mortified. As I walked by the many residences on the street, I nodded at my various neighbors. I wasn’t very close with any of them in particular, but we all knew one another at least. I wasn’t focused on where I was walking and nearly tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. I couldn’t help it; my head was full of thoughts of Sal. I hoped that he would stop in at the soup kitchen tonight, and maybe walk me home again. We could have dinner together, or go out on the town. Various plans whirled through my mind, and I almost tripped a second time. It was then that I heard a screeching of tires. I watched as a car flew out onto our street, closely followed by a police car. The people around me screamed as the passenger of the first car pulled out a gun and begin to shoot, trying to hit the police car. I remained where I stood, frozen to the spot. And then…I don’t remember. I was falling, endlessly falling. And then the darkness closed over me.
A man walked along the street, noticing the empty silence of it all. A breeze blew around him, and newspapers became caught up in it. They were tossed around in the air like a rip tide could take a person. The papers flew helplessly until one fell to the ground in front of the man. He stooped to pick it up. “SOCIAL ACTIVIST KILLED IN DRIVE-BY SHOOTING,” the title screamed at him, a reminder of days past. He crumpled up the paper and threw it down angrily. Lighting a cigarette, his new habit, he sat down on the worn stairs leading up to the building he used to walk by almost every night. He still tried to, but it just didn’t feel the same. There was no longer that magnetic pull to be there. It hadn’t even been the building, he thought to himself, but the person in it. Putting out the cigarette that he had barely touched, Sal put his head in his hands. Tears flowing down his face, he whispered to himself.
“You wanted to be noticed, Jane.”