“Now, that don’t make no kinda sense.”
“Look at your uncle with his belly hanging out over his jeans and those poor buttons about to pop off in all directions on his shirt.”
The short sound of the horn from the car behind snapped Andre and Janine out of their uncomfortable stares. The man with the too tight clothes was oblivious to their taunts, and bobbed his head in rhythm to the music in his headphones as he crossed the street in front of their car. Janine and Andre played daily teasing games about imaginary family members as Janine drove Andre home from work. Because of the age difference and Janine’s busted radio, there wasn’t much else to talk about. Andre kept the volume low on her iPod and participated out of courtesy.
“Wait a minute. Is that…is that your daddy?” Now it was Andre’s turn.
Janine quickly turned her head in Andre’s direction at the small man hobbling towards them with a cardboard sign that read I Am Homeless. God Bless You, in oversized letters. He was the same man they saw on 79th and Stony Island two days before. Most days he just stood in the middle of the street with his sign raised high above his head in one hand, and his dirty White Castle cup in the other moving only when a hand reached out of a car window waving change or a bill to drop in his cup, never in his hand. Today instead of standing still, he hobbled down the row of cars with the same sign, but a bigger cup.
“What–ever.” Janine’s laugh was meant for Andre and not their begging friend. That would be cruel.
Working third shift, midnight to eight o’clock in the morning, at the Ford Motors plant was Janine’s career. She celebrated 15 years at the plant yesterday and made homemade cupcakes to celebrate, with the number 15 evenly frosted on each one. Andre was hired three months ago on a temporary basis. The assembly line paid $14 an hour and supplemented her income while the housing market recuperated. It had been six months since she sold a house and it was a foreclosure with little profit. To make matters worse, she had to sell her car and bought her first bus pass since high school. Over half-eaten sandwiches at lunch, Janine offered to pick Andre up and take her home, after work, since they only lived three blocks away from each other. Queenie insisted that Andre give Janine gas money two to three times a month.
“It’s the least you could do. I don’t want you out on the bus at ten or eleven o’clock at night. Pay that woman.” Queenie said shoving $40 in her hand.
Andre had lived with her grandmother, Queenie, practically since birth. It wasn’t an arrangement that she shared freely with others, because she was thirty-one after all and thirty-one year olds shouldn’t live with their grandmothers. Janine parked out front to await Andre’s arrival or safe entry into the house and since Janine never asked to come inside, Andre never offered.
“There must be an accident or something.” Janine said stretching her neck out of her window. They hadn’t moved in a while. “Dag, I have a ten o’clock hair appointment, and I wanted to take a quick nap first. Oh well, I guess we can sit here and look at your aunt for entertainment.” She chuckled to herself.
The woman in question stood next to the bus shelter wearing a buttoned up overcoat with three missing buttons. A gray scarf was tied loosely around her neck and her once white flip-flop shoes were caked in dirt. Her hair was braided back in fuzzy uneven cornrows and the red on her lips looked days old. In front of her was a shopping cart filled with stuffed garbage bags. The suitcase, half-opened umbrella, and pillow were the only recognizable objects. The young girl with a toddler on her lap, the elderly man, and teenage boy playing with his phone were inattentive to her ranting on the other side of the shelter. The woman talked fast, gesturing her hands in all directions, pausing only to laugh out loud at something, and then back to her fast talk and moving hands. Something grabbed Andre’s heart and froze her in her seat. The car began to move.
“Oh, someone’s car stopped,” Janine said.
“You can let me out at the corner up here. I just remembered I need to get something at Save-A-Lot.”
“Do you have a lot to get? I can wait.”
“No, just a few items. I can walk, plus you have a hair appointment.”
It was their turn to pass the woman on her cell phone stranded in her stalled car. Andre kept looking over her shoulder at the bus stop.
“Okay, see you tomorrow.”
Andre hurried into the store just long enough for Janine’s car to pull out of the parking lot and on its way. Crossing to the exit door, she bumped into a cart identical to the one at the bus stop. The beat of her heart raced with the quickness of her steps, and within seconds, she had reached her destination. The young girl with the toddler on her lap was now standing, holding her on her hip, carefully stepping out into the street to see the oncoming bus. “Your aunt,” as Janine so nonchalantly called her, was no longer in an uproar, but digging in her cart for something. Andre stood behind her waiting. The squeak of the bus brakes and automated voice announcing 82nd & Stony Island interrupted the woman and she looked up annoyed.
“Andre.” Andre took a step closer, before repeating “Andre.”
“My name ain’t no Andre. Do I look like an Andre to you?” she snapped.
“You named me Andre.” Andre’s voice cracked as she pointed at her chest.
The woman’s right eye began to twitch as if bringing Andre into focus. Her countenance relaxed for a brief moment before tightening her grip on the shopping cart handle. The white words “A-Lot” were still visible.
“Little girl, you better leave me alone. I ain’t bothering nobody. I ain’t bothering nobody!”
New passengers approached the bus stop, but they were careful not to stare. She jerked her cart in Andre’s direction with a threat of running her over if she didn’t get out of her way.
“Queenie’s been sick. Don’t you care?”
Andre locked eyes on her, until the woman’s eye began to twitch again and the cart came closer and closer. Conceding, Andre stepped aside, sniffing back tears. Once she passed by, the woman glanced over her shoulder. She tightened her mouth and eyes and shook her head as if to shake Andre away from her presence. When she opened her eyes again, they seemed to plead for Andre to stay away, to forget this moment, and to forget her. She picked up her pace.
“You have to return the cart. You can’t keep it. You have to return it.” Was all Andre could say to her mother as she rolled away with her crowded shopping cart.