My friend, Cher, is going to find that $4 public parking lot on Figueroa again, no matter how many times she has to circle the block.
We are heading to the restaurant, Engine No. 9, for another friend's birthday. Since the restaurant is close to The Staple Center, there are numerous parking structures to choose from, but only one that had a $4 flat rate. We'd pass it, go around the block (Figueroa is a one-way street) but not go down far enough, and then have to circle again with Cher saying, "It's got to be just one more block down."
During circle #2, we stop at a crosswalk to allow a homeless guy to cross.
Wrapped in a grey, worn blanket he shuffles across the street. Long, dirty fingers scratch at brown, dread-locked hair. His lips tremble with mutterings that ripple down his tall, lanky body.
"There's your boyfriend," Cher jokes.
"I probably couldn't even get that guy," I say. "I mean, I've got the crazy, but . . ."
The man stops mid-crosswalk, swivels his face toward us and looks right at me. As if he heard me. Looks right at me.
I shift around in my seat. He couldn't have heard me. Even if he had, did he understand me?
Leaning forward, the man narrows his eyes. Drawing my shoulders up, I lower my chin, but my gaze remained locked with his. His eyes--light blue and clear--glimmer against his dirty face. Soft eyes.
Cher drops her sunglasses down over her eyes from where they had been perched on top her head--operating on the theory that if she had her sunglasses on and was in her car, no one could see her.
The man finishes his migration, eyes fastened to my face. By the time he reaches the other curb, his head appears as if it had spun around 180 degrees.
In silence, Cher makes a quick right turn, then hooks right onto Figueroa. While turning, she glances over her left shoulder to watch oncoming traffic. I follow her gaze and see the Parking $4 Flat Rate sign. We undershot it--again.
"Okay, one more block down," Cher sighs.
For the third time, we go north on Figueroa, turn right at the Bonaventure Hotel, and then right onto Flower. As we cruise south, I crane my neck so that I can scan the sidewalks for the homeless man. He seems to have disappeared, but then we pause at a stoplight and I see him, standing on the corner.
Waiting for me?
Pulling his blanket tighter around him, he extends an arm, two fingers tapping the air. When I don't respond, he scowls, thrusts his pointed finger at me.
I catch my breath. This was definitely not the first time someone had pointed angrily at me, but the way his body seemed to roll and then launch the gesture . . .
The light turns green and the car jerks forward, but I blindly grab Cher's arm and say, "Wait a second."
I roll down my window, "Can I help you?" I ask the man.
He pulls in the hand that had just been extended toward me, tucks it into the folds of his grey blanket.
Smiling, he nods his head. "I knew it was you," he calls to me. Scratching his nose, he looks over his shoulder, and then back at me, "I am so glad you got away."
He whispers--his voice like a breeze against my ear-- but I can still hear him.
"Do you know him?" Cher asks. The car behind us honks.
"Go," he urges. "I won't tell them. I promise."
The car behind us honks again, and Cher rolls forward.
"Hols, what did he say?" she asks, her eyes oscillating between the road and me.
"Not sure," I say, not sure of why I lie. I did know him, I just can't remember from where. That's not unusual; there's a lot of my life that I can't quite remember.