He had been there forever, as far as we knew, sitting aside the butcher shop on his corner, avoiding the angry red-faced Italian who owned the shop. The Italian would storm out in a blood-soaked apron as vibrant as his flaming cheeks, waving a meat cleaver and shouting curses in varying languages. The Italian never really scared Him much. He would just scurry away, returning to his corner only when the screaming Italian had retreated into his shop. He would resume his position and rattle his cup, shaking around his precious coins in a plea for more. Oh, how He loved his coins. It could become somewhat of a nuisance when He took it upon himself to actually spend his savings. I often saw Him slowly counting out his coins on the convenient store counter, trying to buy a ham sandwich. Such a task was slow going, and other customers trying to get their morning coffee often grew quite impatient and would harass Him on occasion, as if their business suits, expensive cars, and dollhouse families made their coffee more important than his survival. Each time I came across Him, counting out each beloved coin, He would always make me smile. Just watching Him count out that infamous $2.47 could make my day. On one of these mornings, as He scrounged around for his sandwich money, the customers grew particularly disgruntled by his behavior. Today was not a good day to be hassled; the heavy rain had already no doubt put a damper on his spirits. I approached the counter and said softly into his ear,
"You know, there's a machine right across the street where you can change those coins into dollars." He looked up at me with an awestruck expression on his weathered face. For a moment, I was just as stunned as He, if not more. His eyes, they were so innocent. His were the eyes of a defenseless child who had lost its mother. I regained my wits and took his hand, leading Him out of the store. We got to the Coinstar across the street, and I showed Him where to empty his plastic collecting cup. The machine dropped a few dollar bills into the tray and spat out the extra coins. His eyes widened, fascinated by this machine that could let him buy a ham sandwich in peace. His expression changed from shocked reverence to pure, unadulterated joy. He flashed me the happiest grin I had ever seen, despite noticeable lack of teeth.
"Missus...I got the paper coins!"
He lisped through his blissful smile. He suddenly grabbed my hands and whirled me around in dizzy circles, amidst bouts of laughter from the both of us. Just being there seemed so unreal, dancing in the pouring rain with a down syndrome homeless man who had just discovered the dollar bill. He ran to retrieve his money, but frowned upon the leftover coins.
"I don' want these ones no more, Missus. Them folks shout at me for these ones."
"Well that's alright," I replied lightly, "You just need to give it exact change."
He grasped my hands in his.
"Thank you, Missus,"
and hurried away. For weeks afterwards, I would see Him from the convenient store window, emptying his cup into the Coinstar. He would wait in prancing anxiety, like a child waiting for the green gumball that would earn him or her a free ice cream. Unfortunately for my dear friend, He couldn't seem to find that green gumball. He never had exact change, and there were always coins left over. Each day I watched Him grow more and more impatient with those leftovers, until his ritual was no longer one of happy expectation. He looked as close to menacing as one of his mental illness can get, hunched over the great green machine and pounding on it when it regurgitated a few nickels or a spare dime. This grew worse daily, and his anger heightened. One particularly rainy Wednesday, I woke up late and ended up trying to run the four blocks to work. As I sped down the crowded city sidewalk, I heard police sirens and saw my dear old friend sprinting towards the Coinstar machine that I was also quickly approaching. He carried in his dirty hands some sort of box. We reached the Coinstar at the same time, and I finally saw what he had in his hands. The drawer of a cash register, coins jingling with every step.
"What have you done?!"
I shrieked, as the police sirens grew closer.
(wee-oo wee-oo)
"Look Missus,"
He said, in that childish way of his, as if showing off the finger painting He had done in class that day.
"Look. The ham sandwich people always say 'exact change'. So I give it and they put it in this here box, so I got the Exact Change Box so I can get just the paper coins!"
I stood, horrified. He turned out the contents of the drawer into the Coinstar.
(clink clink clink)
(wee-oo wee-oo)
I saw the gun in his belt. It simply did not process that this sweet little man-child could ever threaten someone with a gun. Across the street, police cars were too close for comfort.
The bills flew out of the machine.
(swish swish)
The police cars came to a screaming halt
(wee-oo wee-oo)
(clink clink clink)
(swish swish)
The final bill floated into the tray. No coins. I could see his down-turned face light up. Suddenly, the machine coughed, heaved, and spit out a single penny. The happiness was immediately wiped from his face. He slowly reached down and picked up the penny with two grubby fingers. He held it up to me. He once again turned those eyes on me, the eyes of a child. The eyes were surrender, utter dismay. A tear slid silently down his grimy face, and a shot rang out from across the street.