Hundred-​​million-​​dollar man

Gerald steps on the bus, a smile beam­ing amidst a salt-​​and-​​pepper beard that grace­fully com­pli­ments his smooth, chestnut-​​toned skin. He holds his right hand in the air, proudly show­ing off what he imag­ines to be a lot­tery ticket, dis­play­ing it to the bus and to his com­pan­ion. The bus dri­ver, rec­og­niz­ing the card in Gerald’s hand as a one of the city’s sub­si­dized bus passes, looks at Gerald for three-​​and-​​a-​​half beats, then turns his eyes back to the road as he presses the but­ton clos­ing the front door of the bus.

Gerald’s com­pan­ion hasn’t moved his feet. He stands on the side­walk, shout­ing, “Hundred mil­lion dol­lar man! Have you seen my friend? He’s a hun­dred mil­lion dol­lar man!” The bus begins to move, and Gerald, head held high, shuf­fles down the aisle before deposit­ing him­self in a seat near the back door of the bus.

You’re gonna make it, Gerald!” the friend calls out. The friend’s words are inaudi­ble, since the win­dows are sealed against the hot after­noon sun, but his enthu­si­asm is appar­ent from the move­ment of his fists punch­ing the air as he shouts his prophecy.

Seated and look­ing for­ward as his friend passes from view, Gerald’s city-​​man habits try to kick in, telling him to kill the smile, even if he’s thrilled to death. But his beam­ing smile can only be tamed ever-​​so-​​slightly, just enough to show every­one that he’s really try­ing. In case they’re look­ing. And he hopes they’re look­ing. Because he doesn’t care if they’re look­ing. He’s a hundred-​​million-​​dollar man, after all.

Gerald rides the bus, his would-​​be lot­tery ticket rub­bing against his quadri­ceps like some­thing more substantial—perhaps a credit card—in his pocket. He can’t help but think about that lot­tery ticket. He has all but for­got­ten the book that he nes­tled in the crook of his left arm and pressed against his rib cage. The title is obscured by his arm, but the publisher-​​author declares itself in clear, gold-​​foil let­ters that stand out from the for­est green, faux leather cover: Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gerald’s smile can’t be con­tained the whole ride home.