Not even an unforgiving humidity-borne breeze broke through the steam in Municipal Park. Why Albert insisted on this meeting place I never knew. But, there I was, sitting among artists, students, drug dealers, sunbathers, bums, and an array of office workers taking lunch on the park benches. I pretended to read the Constitution – Atlanta’s major newspaper. I had little interest in anything other than the sports page, hence fifty other pages of the paper were slowly slipping down to the ground. My waning attention caused me to miss his approach.
“So, did you bring it?” His voice betrayed his life on the street, too many cigarettes, too much all night revelry, and too much “Albertness”. I had to half hold my breath. An odor of the street traveled with Albert.
“Yeah, it’s in the bag.” I had two-fold meaning. One, I had documents in my satchel; and two, my mission on his behalf was finalized.
“That’s all? Just good? I worked a year on this project.”
“Yeah. You got a cigarette?”
“You know I don’t smoke.”
“Too bad, we could use someone smart like you; but you have to smoke.”
“That’s ridiculous Albert. Nobody has to smoke.”
He coughed and laughed. “You haven’t a clue.”
I watched my associate peek into my brown briefcase. “Whatcha look’n for? I don’t have any food in there.”
He looked confused. “Why not?”
“Cause it is a bag for carrying papers, Albert. Sheesh. You need some money for food?”
“Yeah, you got a twenty?”
“You must eat well.” I looked in my billfold. I had two tens. “All I have are tens.”
“Give’m to me.”
I reluctantly handed him one. He carefully folded it and walked away. This is it? He’s leaving?
Albert walked up to a bag lady and gently held out his hand to her. She extended a hand to him. And I heard him say. “Emma, I think you dropped this back there.” He handed her the ten-dollar bill. Then he walked back to me. “Gimme the other one.”
I gave him the bill then opened my wallet to show him there was no more. He took the ten and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “I know some kids who haven’t eaten today; I’ll get some nabs later.”
“Want me to talk to social services?”
“Do as you please; we don’t need paperwork and government programs. These people need food.”
I tried not to argue. “How about food stamps?”
“You don’t get it, do you?” The sweat was pouring off of his face. “How come your missionaries do better in Nairobi than we do here in South Atlanta?”
I had no answer.
“I thought so. Take the papers over to the cafeteria. That way they can legally bring left over food here to the park.”
“They’ll need someone to serve it.”
Albert shook his head. “Man, you just don’t get it.”
“Get what? You are irritating me with this you don’t get it.”
Albert stood again. “Thanks for getting the papers.” Then he sauntered back toward the bridge.
I sat for a minute before walking over to MARTA, the Atlanta subway, I had felt proud about running the legal documents between municipal departments. I dare him to say I don’t get it. I’m helping. I got a restaurant to contribute one day. “What does he want?”
The Food Research and Action Center estimates that 13 million children go hungry every day in the United States. There are articles and speeches. But, to date, little is being done about it.
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