We have a few regulars who come to the store and we give them money. I realizethat in the retail industry, the exchange is supposed to work in the opposite direction, but Vegas has a major pitfall: he's just too damn nice. The guy is pretty severely in debt, but he still gives two euros per week to a variety of homeless types who know where to find someone they can count on. This duty was initiated by Vegas years ago, and although I have taken over his place several days per week, I can't exactly tell these guys "Tough shit, buddy!" So I cough up whatever amount Vegas has told me each one of them is habituated to - "The guy who has the sort of funky left arm? He's two euros. The other one, who sorta walks sideways? He comes in on Wednesdays and Sundays. A euro or two, and he's good to go..."
One of these guys - let's call him George - is severaly mentally impaired. I'm not sure if it's years on the streets, repeated alcohol consumption, or some pre-existing condition that has done him in, but he sure has a hard time getting words out of his mouth. To his credit, he puts forward a massive effort each time just to thank me and say "Have a good day" That's about a minute-long sentence, coming from him. But I appreciate it.
George is a two euro, every Friday type.
Vegas told me that one time he woke up in his apartment to the sound of someone screaming. It was George, sleeping in a doorway across the street. He was having a terrible nightmare, and Vegas swears he has never heard suffering so clearly.
I've always liked George, but he makes me nervous because he is often quite drunk. I don't fear him - he's a really gentle type who seems genuinely sweet and docile - but the fear of him vomiting puts me on edge. I know severe drunks don't vomit often, and every Friday, I repeat it in my head like a mantra: "He will not vomit on me, he will not vomit..." Still, in the last few months I've gotten better about my rather irrational fear of his puke, and we've even managed to have some short, but very slow, conversations.
Today, George came into the store - an unexpected surprise for a Thursday. Still, I figured he must have another appointment tomorrow (naturally), so I forked over the two euros and wished him well. The following conversation ensued:
George: (putting index finger to his lips) Shhhhhh....
Me: (whispering) Oh, sorry.
George: (whispering) Thank you.
Me: (whispering) You're welcome.
George leans in.
George: (still whispering) I love you. Shhh....
Me: Oh! (not exactly whispering)
George: SHHHHH!!!!! (reprimanding me)
George: I said shh... (whispering) I LOVE you.
Me: (whispering this time) Ok. Thank you.
George: (whispering) Do you love me???
George: (clasps his hands to his heart and beams) I love you too.
George: (still whispering) Have a good day.
He walks out the door (falls out, sorta) and looks back at me, puts his finger to his lips again and shushes me. Our little secret.