Another story based on a dream I had.
The old man eating lunch in the park didn’t seem to be interested in his sandwich. Sitting on the grass nearby, a taller, younger man in dirty clothes watched. The old man sighed for about the fortieth time then stood and carried his uneaten sandwich toward the trash can, frowning.
“If you’re not going to eat that, can I have it?” asked the young man.
The old man stopped and turned to look. “It’s salami and tomatoes on Italian,” he said.
The young man could not stop the visible rush of saliva to his mouth. “Sounds great.” He stood up, wiping one hand across his face.
The old man nodded and held out the meal, still mostly wrapped in the deli papers. “I’m Thomas, I’ve seen you here before.”
The younger man took the food from his hands, his face intent on the prize. “I’m Chris. And yeah, I uh, sort of live here.”
Thomas walked slowly back toward the bench. “Sit, eat,” he said nodding toward the other end as he sat down.
Chris sat, smiling briefly toward Thomas before he began eating. He treated the partially wrapped sandwich with care and almost reverence as he extracted a cut third of it from the papers.
Thomas watched him eat and his own face changed. By the time Chris had finished the first third with a bit of tomato dripping from his chin, Thomas smiled. “Glad to see you like that,” he said. “There’s a couple of napkins.”
Chris nodded, wiping away the ruby red remnants from his stubbly chin. “It’s good. And I’m not just saying that ’cause I hadn’t eaten since yesterday, the guys at Two Fat Italian Heroes know how to make a sandwich.”
Thomas smiled but it seemed to pain him. “They do,” he said. “I wish they were better at making the rent.”
“Huh,” said Chris. “How do you mean?”
“I’m the property manager for this block of shops.” He gestured toward one side of the park. “I collect the rents and turn them over to the owners. I take care of problems like roofs and sewers and dealing with police and building inspectors. But Leo and Gio are late with the rent, two months in a row. And short both times, besides. I have to tell the owner.”
Chris chewed his way through the second section of the sandwich and neither of them said anything for a while. Finally, Chris said, “You don’t want to do that.”
Thomas shook his head. “I don’t. But it’s my job. If they are short three times, they go on a list. From being on the list to getting evicted if you don’t make up everything you missed, takes about six months.”
Chris nodded. He looked at the last third of the sandwich, about four inches long and nearly as wide. Salami, provolone, tomatoes and onions with a light coating of olive oil and vinegar filled the bread to overflowing. “You want the last piece?” he asked Thomas.
Thomas looked at the remainder of the sandwich. He hadn’t wanted it at all but now that he had said something to someone, he felt a bit of hunger. It was his lunch after all and he had forced Leo and Gio to accept payment for it by leaving the money on the counter. “Maybe half?” he said, his mouth watering.
Chris carefully tore the sandwich in two and offered his choice of halves to Thomas and they both ate with obvious enjoyment.
“Good sandwich,” said Chris when they had finished and used the napkins to clean their hands and faces. “Thanks,” he added as he threw the trash into the can.
“They do make good sandwiches but hardly anyone is willing to pay eleven dollars for a foot-long hero anymore when there’s a chain sandwich shop on almost every block,” said Thomas.
“Yeah,” said Chris. “They have a nice corner location though, they ought to be able to grow a clientele if they can get through a year or so. You think?”
Thomas nodded. “Probably.”
“But if they go under in six months, the storefront is likely to be empty for a year or so?”
Thomas nodded again.
“That can’t be good for anybody on the block. Not good for the owners or you either.”
“No,” said Thomas. The small part of the sandwich he had eaten sat like a lump in his stomach.
Chris belched. “Pardon. So, what if you went to everyone on the block and asked them if they could help the sandwich guys out with rent for a while. And put it like a package deal to your bosses, reduced rent for a year while Leo and Gio get on their feet?”
Thomas gulped. “That just might work,” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Too close to the problem, maybe?” suggested Chris. “It’s worth a try, anyway.”
Thomas started away, his face showing his optimism in the new solution.
“Hey,” said Chris. “You got any work for me? Run errands? Sweep up? Haul away the trash in the alley? Anything?”
Thomas blinked. “I’m not doing so good on the thinking things through bit today. Yeah, I probably do have some things for you to do.” He smiled at his new friend.
Chris smiled back. “I knew it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he said.