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A heap of filthy rags 0

Dear Bradshaw,

Carol and I hadn’t seen each other in eight years. She had recently married and was coming to Rome with her husband and mother-in-law.

Francesca and I arrived early to the restaurant, so I waited outside as she went inside to check on our reservations. While I was standing by the door, glancing up and down the street, a man in a wheelchair waved me over. He was dressed in a heap of filthy rags with his right leg exposed, revealing a purplish knob of flesh where his knee should have been. He had long, shaggy hair like a lion’s mane and his beard exploded from his face like a war of electric wires. I expected weeds to sprout up all over him any second.

I plucked a coin out of my pocket and tried to hand it to him but he shook his head, spat on the ground, and shouted, “I need cigarettes!”

“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”

“Well, I do and I’m out,” he said, fishing through his pockets. He pulled out a handful of coins, adding, “Run down to the smoke shop and get me some. Hurry! They close in a few minutes.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, refusing his money. “I’ll get you cigarettes. But I’m waiting for my wife.” I pointed at the restaurant’s door and said, “When she comes out tell her ‘Scott went to get me a pack of cigarettes.’ Got that? Scott.”

His voice was like stones scraping together as he said, “How the hell am I supposed to know who she is?”

“You can’t miss her. Any second you’ll see a girl come out of there looking for someone. She’s short, white, skinny, brown hair, pretty.”

“Fine! But hurry now! Go!”

“What type of cigarettes do you want?”

“MS, unfiltered.”

I jogged down the street, unsure where to find a smoke shop, so I stopped at a newsstand and asked for directions. The newsagent was boarding up his kiosk but jerked his chin down the street and I trotted off.

There were several people in the shop but no one in line and when I asked the lady for a pack of MS, she handed them right over. I paid the money and then hurried back to the restaurant.

I arrived to find Carol there, waiting. After handing the man his cigarettes, I hugged her hello. She asked who the guy in the wheelchair was. “He’s been talking about you the whole time I’ve been here,” she said. “He thinks I’m your wife.” Unlike Francesca, Carol is over six feet tall, a former national long jump record holder and… African American.

That’s it, Shaw, the story of the first pack of cigarettes I’ve ever bought, and hopefully, the last. I must admit though, considering the situation, it was money well spent.

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