It’s Not My Birthday
The least I can do is look him in the eyes and pretend I’m telling the truth.
I intended to say this aloud to my friend as we walked down Fremont East, after the blistered man with gray hair and missing front teeth rolled his eyes and turned to walk away after I told him I didn’t have any cash. But I don’t think I said anything. I tried to put it in the back of my mind as I complained about work.
I had ice cream, cookies, fudge and caramel in a double-layered paper sack and we were walking back toward the office—a converted and modernized 1940s home cocooned by two fruitless mulberry trees. I used a debit card to pay for it all without concern for my account balance, but I might have had a few dollars and some change in my wallet. I didn’t really know. I didn’t care to look. I had work to do. In the safety of our small kitchenette, after putting away the ice cream, I opened my wallet and dug around. The wallet was given to me by my grandmother—it had a golden embroidered elephant on top of red, brown and beige lines twisted together like a double-carrick bend knot. It reminded me of Thailand, my least favorite place in Asia because the wealth gap is worse than here. I had three dollars and a half-pound of pennies. For next time, I know.
An hour later, we sang “Happy Birthday” and made sundaes. The homeless man would’ve been forgotten on most days, but I couldn’t get his eye roll out of my head. He knew I was lying. The sundae ingredients were overpriced and I didn’t think twice before shelling out for them, but I couldn’t be bothered to find this guy some pocket change? He was a regular on Fremont. Had he asked me for money before? Did he see through me and my deceit? I noted how much ice cream was left as I put the carton in the freezer.
* * *
Just down the block, outside the window of a boarded-up motel, the blistered man looked around to see if anyone was watching. He pulled back a sheet of plywood, leaned into the empty space that once was a window, and heaved himself into the building. He made his way through the rooms, lit only by streams of light that broke in where plywood didn’t meet stucco. The floors were buried in trash, but were once walked on by people experiencing an economic boom, life full of promise.
After stepping over a sleeping roommate, the man found a staircase and started up it. At the top, he walked down a hall, past many rooms, each with evidence of life: heavy snores, yellowed paperback books, a waft of weed. Finally he entered a room and leaned against the wall, sliding down until his filthy Carhartt pants hit the floor. A crushed and inconspicuous box contained food (Pop-Tarts, a couple of still-shining apples, cans of soup) and some nature magazines. But he wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to read. He was restless and anxious and tired and bored and had a headache that never went away. He stood and shit in a copper pot and tossed the waste out the window and tried to sleep. When he couldn’t he made his way downstairs to the porch, which faced a business complex from which people came and went. In the evening breeze, on the cracked concrete, he was able to relax and fall asleep.
* * *
I shut my laptop for the day and marched to the kitchen, where I scooped some ice cream into a bowl and added whipped cream and a cherry. A few blocks away from my office, I saw the man stretched on the porch of the condemned motel. I didn’t want to wake him, but didn’t want the sundae to go to waste, so I thought I’d just walk by to get a closer look and see if he was sleeping. Maybe he was awake and would ask me for money and I could give him everything I had.
As I walked by, he lifted his head, looked at me and rolled his eyes before letting his head fall to the concrete. I kept walking for half a block, then turned around. I set down the sundae, the whipped cream just starting to melt into a moat around a white mound of ice cream, and slid three dollars under the bowl. I said I hoped he enjoyed it and walked back toward my building. I heard him stir and stand and then plastic klunk-klunk-klunk on the concrete. I turned around. He had kicked the sundae into the street, where it was melting on the still-warm blacktop. He pocketed the cash and looked up at me and said, “It’s not my birthday.”
Amelia Pond is Nevada native who works and writes in downtown Las Vegas. She spends her free time exploring the Mojave and the world via bare feet and cargo ships. You can read her real-life adventures on medium.com/@ameliaraepond