The guilt had gotten to me. The guy in the wheelchair at North Station, the insistent quasimodos in Salvation Army uniforms tintinabulating at every street corner, the stocky old man in tattered jeans who sang to me, "I need some money, I need some money bad," had set me up.
Stoically, with my bland commuter face firmly unfocussed, I had passed by them all. My hand in my pocket clutched my change to keep it from jingling. I felt awful. I was a liar and a cheat and an ungenerous son-of-a-bitch, but I had made it through the gauntlet with enough money for a cup of coffee and a hard roll.
The coffee shop was steamy and friendly. They knew me and usually I joke around a bit with the ladies there. This time I just smiled and grabbed my paper bag and left. I could see another panhandler on the corner so I cut through the alley to the next street and my office.
The building was still locked, but, as I got out my keys I suddenly remembered that I had a doctor's appointment this morning. I turned and headed for the subway. As I passed a doorway further down the street, Someone stepped out. "Spare some change for a cup of coffee mister?"
Her timing was perfect. I handed her the paper bag and said, "I'll do better than that, you can have this coffee." She shrank back and wouldn't touch the bag. For a moment I thought she was frightened. Then she said, "It's probably not black."
I laughed. "Yes it is," I said and handed her the bag again. This time she took it and stepped backward into the doorway again as I headed down the steps to the Red Line. Suddenly I heard her voice again.
"Hey mister, didn't you get any butter for this hard roll."