“Finally!” Trudy says.
“Should have let you take the bus.” Mingan replies. But, he knew Leo would have picked her up and since he’d given him the keys to the jeep while he was away, well, he did his duty.
“Like you’ve ever worked at a fulfillment center?” She already knows the answer. “Then shut it. People are horrible.”
“People are people….” Mingan starts.
“On top of that there’s so much stress!” She continues. “Calls recorded, timed, counted, supervisors keeping track of your every move. I stopped drinking coffee so I don’t have to take bathroom breaks. What good are their fancy coffee machines if I can’t use them?”
“Fighting the tide will always be stressful.”
“What do you know? You just stand around holding a stop sign.”
“Sure, nothing to it.” If you don’t count tyrannical sub-foremen, hostile laborers, bad drivers, aggressive pedestrians, the disorganized job agency, not to mention the cold, the rain, the racism. “Come join me when you’re fired.”
“But it’s outside all day.” She shudders as images flash of endless days roaming the city, exhausted after nights huddled in corners, jumping at shadows and dozing fitfully, clutching a hunting knife. “Plus I want the $1,000 signing bonus.”
“Oh, I see the problem now.” He says, and she perks up. “They want to give you money for the pleasure of giving you a job.”
She glares out the window. He’s from the streets too, so how was he always right?
“What are we doing here?” She asks, as they pull in behind the shelter.
“Ned could use help with the sandwiches.”
“Drop me at home.”
“No can do,” he says. “Leo expects you to be at work, which is,” he glances at the dashboard clock. “Five more hours.”
She slams the jeep’s door and trudges after him into the shelter’s kitchen.
“Yo! Word got out about my soup masterpiece!” Ned beams. His long brown hair tied under a hairnet, he was gathering up sandwich ingredients. “Looking fine tonight, Tru.”
“Blow me.” She says biting back a smile, and joins Mingan at the sinks. They wash their hands and he tosses her an apron and hairnet for her work-styled bleached blond hair. He ties his “Kiss the Cook” apron and gathers his shiny jet black hair from his collar and under the hairnet.
At the stainless steel island, Mingan grabs the bologna packages and tub of mustard, and pushes the peanut butter and grape jelly toward Trudy.
“How many do we need?” He asks as he makes piles of the different types of sliced bread.
“As many as we can make.” Ned replies. “We’ll go out after we’re done here.”
They work in companionable silence with the local classic rock station playing. When several trays are piled high with sandwiches, shelter volunteers bring them and a large pot of soup to the visitors in the front sitting area.
“Yeah!” Ned hollers, turning up the radio dial so the opening chords fill the room.
Ned slings his air guitar low on his hips and plays his heart out, singing-hollering, “Deep down in Louisiana ’cross to New Orleans!” Around the counter, “Way back up in the woods among the evergreens!” The island, “There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood!” The cooler, “Where lived a country boy named Johnny B Goode!” And back out. “Who never ever learned to read or write so well but he could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell!” Around Trudy, “Go go! Go Johnny go!” And back to the sinks. “Go! Go Johnny go!”
Mingan grins into the steam, his steel-toed boots tapping in time as he dances at the sink, rinsing the dishes and stacking them in steel racks to be washed.
Trudy ignores them and packs sandwiches along with fruit purchased by the shelter, an apple or orange, sometimes a banana, into individual bags.
When the song is over, a reluctant Ned hangs up his air guitar. He flips on the outside light on his way to unlock the old converted school bus. He turns on the convection burners, donated by a local department store. Mingan carries out four large pots of soup and Trudy brings garbage bags filled with the individual sandwich bags.
“The Jungle?” Mingan asks.
And Ned starts the engine.
I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day.
~Martin Luther King Jr.
[Song and lyrics, in italics: “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry, 1958.]
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