The day was crisp and chipper like a joyful sunflower basking in the noonday sun. If the sun could laugh or giggle or cast a playful wink at the little people wandering around on the earth, surely it would have done it today.
It was on days like this that George Reilly all but forgot his troubles. His achy knee joints creaked a little less and his clothes seemed to smell a little sweeter. And sometimes if he closed his eyes for a few minutes and soaked in the sunlight like one of those happy flowers, he nearly forgot the squeaky wheels of the dull red, plastic Target cart that carried every last one of his possessions.
George took a whiff of the fast-food scented air and steered his cart onto the buzzing sidewalk. Onion rings, cheeseburgers ... The aroma wafted through his nostrils and triggered a rumble in his stomach. I think they still has one o' them “buy one, get one free” deals goin’ on at the diner. Bet I could get up enough money from my pop cans to ...
A glimmer up ahead on the sidewalk caught his eye. The wheels squealed in protest as he rushed his cart forward and slowly bent to retrieve the item. “Whoo, boy! Another five cents. Thank you, Coca Cola!” Fishing a plastic grocery sack from his belongings, George added his new find to the rest of his collection.
“Prob’ly got nigh on to five whole dollars in these here sacks.” He let out a scratchy chuckle. “Be gettin’ me a nice fat cheeseburger purty soon.”
George patted the pile of plump sacks and continued on his way, smiling at passersby as he went. Most of them ignored him. Some returned his grin with a grimace. I sure do wonder why people is always so upset. And on such a right sunny day as this.
“Hey, get your junk off the sidewalk, old man!” A suited, middle-aged man swore at him.
“Yeah, you’re in the way.”
George backed against a nearby set of steps, pulling his cart as close to the sidewalk’s edge as possible. Best to let ‘em pass.
With his cart safely out of the path of busy pedestrians, George brushed a candy wrapper off the nearest step and plopped down with a grunt.
“Would you like a handout, sir?”
“Huh?” George turned to see a young man, probably in his late teens, standing a few steps above him.
“A handout. I represent the Pine City Bank and I’m giving these free today.”
The kid reached into the small box he was holding.
“Whoa-ho, Sonny.” George held his hands in front of his face. “I’m mighty obliged at your generosity, but I can’t accept no handout ‘less I work for it.”
Bank Boy paused and flashed a crooked grin, “Uh ... no really, sir, it’s not a big deal. It’s not even worth much.”
George remembered the tantalizing fast-food smells. “Oh, but I insist. If ya gots a job for me, I’m all for it, but I can’t be takin’ nothin’ fer free.”
Bank Boy looked into his box and snorted an amused little snicker. “Okay, here.” He pulled out a handful of glossy brochures. “You can help me pass these out, and keep one for yourself.” He chuckled again. "If you want it."
George examined the cover. A stone-colored building with a long set of steps graced the front. Above it were the words “Pine City Bank – All you need to start an enriching account.”
“These are the handouts, mister. It’s an advertising campaign for the bank.”
“Well, shoot, these ain’t no money handouts. They’s just a bunch o’ purty paper.”
Bank Boy shook his head and stopped short of rolling his eyes. “Yeah, well, I’m gonna take my lunch break now.”
The kid sauntered down the last few steps and started along the walk, his hand moving nonchalantly to his back pocket. He stopped. Spinning around, his eyes anxiously combed the ground behind him. George watched as the youth frantically skipped back up to the steps where he had just been standing.
“Perfect.” Bank Boy dropped his arms to his sides. “Now someone’s stolen my wallet.”
George glanced at his feet. “Now that’s an awful shame.” Rising slowly on his creaky knees, George stood and circled to the front of his cart. “Looks like you’re needin’ a handout now, Sonny. What’s say we trade in these pop cans together and go grab some lunch?”
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