I think of myself as a relatively wise and cautious person, but as I’m looking for water in this unfamiliar convenience store and overhear a guy giving the poor kid working the midnight register so much shit, I don’t stop to think.
“Hey. Leave him alone.” The bully turns very slowly to look at me. My heart goes crazy. Oops.
“You say what to me?”
“I say, quit the shit with the kid. He can’t give you free beer, or a discount. See the camera?” I point. “Even if he wanted.”
The guy looks up and gives a finger to the camera. He leaves.
The kid tells me how stupid I was. The kid is older than he looks, obviously he is if he’s selling beer. “People get shot around here for shit like that.”
I laugh and slide the sparkling water promising to be from springs in a far away mountain toward him on the counter.
“That camera doesn’t work, by the way.”
“Shit.” I say softly, my stupidity slowly coming into view.
“But thanks. I appreciate the help, but you…”
“I know, could get shot.”
He motions me to look over the counter. I have to stretch to see what he’s pointing at. A gun. I assume it’s a real gun.
“They give that to you?”
Another laugh. “Shit no. I bring that myself. I’m not working until 5am without some help here. Even if that camera did work, what good would it do if I’m dead?”
I nod. What good. Jesus, what a way to work. I don’t ask how he comes to have a gun, or any of that. The little I know about the subject, I’m guessing it’s not legal.
“You drive to work with that?”
“No, I take the bus.” Whole body laugh from him. “No, I borrow a ride or I get a ride. And it’s not legal because…”
He stops. I guess he doesn’t want to out and out say that it’s not legal. Of course it’s not legal. Nothing about his world is legal. But he’s figured all that out and he’s going to survive. Or all of this could go wrong and he could end up with…he could end up dead due to some miscalculation. Maybe not even on his part.
“You ever use that?”
He nods, like why else does he bring it to work every night. “Why you in this neighborhood? You should probably get moving because you never know what can happen around here.”
I thank him. He thanks me. I thank him again.
“Get out of here.” He has a great laugh.