We had reached Park Street Station where the Red and Green lines of the subway - the T - intersected underground. Across Tremont Street, I noticed the wall of four-story buildings. A small convenience store and some fast food places had seeped between the cracks, trying to choke the indiscriminate shops which looked as though they'd been there for hundreds of years. The clash of time and place always made me question permanence. As we crossed the street, I answered Vince:
"I heard about it from some other homeless guys. Not many do it, but it's been going on for years. There are a few others...."
"For years bums have been passing pigeons off for squab and nobody's the wiser. Fuckin' great! What I've been missing out on."
"You eat a lot of squab?"
He kept laughing as we headed towards Downtown Crossing.
There was a little outdoor stand that sold wrap sandwiches. This was something I'd witnessed as the newest rage. It seemed people would roll up anything in pita bread, and the more outrageous the food, the better. Vince thought it would be best to buy the sandwiches and walk up the street to a little brick rotunda. We would eat on the benches there.
"I don't think you'd fit the dress code of the places I normally frequent," he chuckled.
We got our wraps and made our way through the crowd. Shoppers with full bags bustled by; teenagers stood on corners with radios the size of small trunks playing loud, bass-heavy music; businessmen passed each other while talking on their cell phones, gesticulating wildly as if in negotiations; vendors showed off homemade jewelry and scarves and dresses and leather goods they sold from wooden carts; cops sat on horseback, surveying the street as they flirted with the meter maids and chatted with construction crewmen. This was downtown in the daytime: a circus in which most people unwittingly performed. I preferred it at night, after the carnival had packed up and left. That's when I would normally venture down the stained sidewalks of Downtown Crossing and hunt the pigeons which roosted in the nooks of the gray buildings. I liked the feeling of the deserted streets. They exuded the same comfort that's earmarked for autumn nights when you're wearing your favorite sweater. At night, the streets always felt as if they were mine, as if someone had created a giant playground solely for my purposes. I was always the King of the Hill. I alone had possession, and I alone belonged.
We sat. The sandwich in my hands was called the Thanksgiving Special. Steaming, hot turkey breast wrapped around cornbread stuffing with cranberry sauce spread on top. The smell alone almost made me faint and my mouth watered as if my tongue had exploded. This was the closest thing to a Thanksgiving dinner I'd had in more than a decade. I quickly began unwrapping the sandwich, my fingers twitching with anticipation. It was when I momentarily glanced up that I noticed the middle-aged woman. She was walking towards us and, though it only took a millisecond, it was enough time for our eyes to lock. She quickly turned, as if she'd realized she had forgotten something, and hurried across the street to retrieve it. My fingers slowed down like an engine sputtering out of gasoline.
"You okay?" asked Vince.
"The sandwich is good. Eat before it gets cold."
I finished unwrapping the foil and bit into the pita. The sensation of warm food was wonderfully alien and, like one who speaks a foreign language for the first time, I had to get used to forming new chewing motions. I remembered how different it was to eat hot food. My mouth was quickly going through a type of unconscious physical therapy to remind me how to properly get the turkey to my stomach. But that wasn't what made me put the sandwich down.
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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