His name was Bill.
He didn't go by Bill, though, he liked people to call him Billy. I'd sat down across from him during my trek from Cassidy's in Brooklyn back to my new place in Manhattan, by way of the 2 train to Fulton, then, a long way down stairs, along the platform, up stairs and finally to the 4/5 train...from there, one stop to Brooklyn Bridge, walk straight over to the 6 and head uptown to my stop.
I was doing this lugging a small piece of luggage (hurrah for wheels!), my purse, a shopping bag...oh, and Sophie in her carry-case. Having just been shaved and having been forced back into the carry-case and having been made to leave her holiday home with Cassidy and Sophie's new best fried, Daisy...well, she wasn't very happy to say the least. So, I dashed onto the 6, plopped myself down, sighed and re-arranged all by bags, trying not to look like one of the Crazy Sisters of the MTA.
He was sitting across from me, and he smiled when I looked up, saying, "That your cat? It looks pretty." He was missing his top front teeth, but, he was clean and neat and spoke softly.
"Yeah, I had a cat. His name was Coco...I mean, he was so beautiful! He was like white? Only, if you looked real close, he had reeeeeeeeaaaaly light brown tips on those hairs so, I called him Coco cause he looked like you know, cocoa powder. Oh, and his eyes, man, those eyes! They were either blue or green and he'd come when I called him. I found him outside, in an alley, his mom was dead or something, he was this little guy....and I fed him and man, I'd just had him fixed, over at the Animal Shelter? They were the ones who fixed him up when he was in the fire....I slept outside the shelter so I could be there all day with him. They let me sit by his cage. And, I was up on Grand Concourse, you know, in the Bronx?"
I nodded, said I knew the place... before I could say more, he was back on his tale.
"So, yeah, I've got Coco, and like, I have a shopping bag with his food and stuff, and he's in his little case...I stepped into this store, where I sweep sometimes, and I, man, I just turned my back, like two seconds...two seconds! When I looked back, Coco and the case were gone! Gone. Man, I went crazy. I ran up and down and yelled for him, because he comes to his name and all, and I was crying and stuff...because, Coco? He's all I have. I'm supposed to be getting housing soon since the place we were living in, me and Coco, it burned--that's when he got sick and was at the vet place. He wasn't breathing when the firemen carried him out and they gave him oxygen cause I was crying and yelling his name and then he went to the vets. He was all better, and I was taking him with me here on the train, every day, we'd ride the train so I could sleep. I'd put my hand inside his case, and he'd sleep on it..just lie there, and lick it and go to sleep."
Sophie pushed her face into the mesh window, meowed. He reached over and stroked it with the side of his finger. "Where did you get her?", he asked, crooning to her.
"WalMart, in Utah. In a parking lot. Proves you can get anything at WalMart." He didn't stop his whispered words to her...looking up at me, sad, so very sad.
"It's been a month, and, like, I'm still so full of grief. Everyone in the neighborhood..they know me, they know Coco, and I know they'll grab him if they see him. I just hope who ever took him really liked his looks, you know? Not grabbed him to be mean, but, because he was such a great looking cat. Oh, I do miss him so much, especially when I'm sleeping on the train."
I asked him if he worked...where did he eat? He told me he had a few businesses that paid him $20 each for a week of sweeping their floors...it was enough to buy him a train ticket for a week and some food. He'd often buy Coco food before he bought his own. He is on a list for housing, should be soon, he tells me--a friend got him on the HIV housing list, and even though he doesn't have HIV, he is going to take the place.
He's been off crack for five years now...no family. People need family, he tells me--Coco was his. I offer him $5, he refuses.
"I work. I don't take handouts, and I really appreciate you offering. I go to the shelter, shower and shave every two days. I mean, I'm on the train, but, I don't want people to think I'm a bum or a begger. I had bad times, I'm out of them. Thank you, but, no."
Sophie meows, fully irritated there are people on this train, that she is naked now, and she is not happy. He laughs.
"She's going to ignore you tonight! Man, you're going to really have to work hard to get her to like you again."
I open the zipper a bit, she pokes out her head...looks around, ignores everyone there and focuses on his face. He reaches over, strokes her head. She turns, licks his finger, ducks back in and settles down.
His eyes fill. "Man. I miss Coco. He was all I had."
I suggest he go to the shelters, get another cat. He says they don't allow homeless people to have a cat or dog.
"What they don't understand is, sometimes, that's all we have, those pets and we take better care of them than someone who has a dog or some pet because it's cool and stuff. When you have a pet, you can't go to the shelters. They wont' let you. When I win the lottery, if God lets me win it, I tell Him, "God, if I win this, I'll spend it all on building shelters for homeless people and their pets." I say that every night."
It's my stop. I stand, gather the stuff, swing Sophie's case onto my shoulder. I reach out, shake his hand... tuck the five into his palm. "It's from Sophie." And, I move quickly so he can't give it back...he's almost out of his seat when I go out the door, turning to wave and smile.
"Thank you, Sophie!", he calls. "Coco would have liked you!" He waves, settles against the wall, closes his eyes as the door closes between us.
I hope he does win the lottery. I know he'll keep that promise, and build places where homeless people can have those animals that are so important, that are family, that represent home.
I prayed that night that Billy finds Coco...I hope God listens to that request, too.