“Huh?” I asked, pulling off one side of my headphones.
“I said I like your boots,” the man repeated.
“Oh, thank you.”
“I had a bunch of pairs exactly like ‘em for years and years—a good workin boot, ya know?”
“They definitely are, I use them every day on the job.”
“Where’s that at?”
“Ah, yes, yes. You’re building that big ole’ thing up on East Avenue, ain’t ya?”
“Yes, sir. It’s going to be one of the biggest in the city.”
“So it seems. I used to do construction too, ya know? That was way back in the day. I started back when your mama was probably a toddler.”
“Oh, yeah? With a company, or freelance, or…?”
“My papa had a small construction and carpentry business. He hired me on when I was, oh, maybe 15 or so. That was all the way back in 1962! We built houses, mostly, a couple small apartment complexes—nothin as big as what you’re working on.”
“Did you like it?”
“Boy, you bet your ass I did. Workin all day was a free gym membership! Ha! Plus, all the perks that came with it.”
He smiled. “Can ya keep a secret, boy?”
“You ever play in a construction site as a child? When I was a lil’ one, me and my buddies would sneak into houses being built and explore ‘em. Maybe break a couple bottles here and there.”
“Yeah! My neighbors and I used to do that when I was a kid. My house was one of the first built in our neighborhood, then the rest came later. We probably explored every house on the block before they were finished—when they were just wood skeletons—maybe breaking a couple bottles too, to tell you the truth.”
“Of course ya did. Who wouldn’t, given the opportunity? But that’s all the childish stuff. The real perks came later in life, when I was an adult.”
“Oh yes, boy. Imagine this. The year is 1980 with no cell phones in sight. You talk up a pretty lady at the local bar and hit it off. You tell her about your new construction project, and she wants to go see it.”
“Well then ya take her there! You and her all alone in a skeleton of a home, as you said.”
“Wouldn’t it be a little more private back at your own house?”
“More private, sure, maybe. But much messier.”
I paused. “How so?”
“Well, you don’t just take a girly down to a construction site at night just to get your diddly fiddled with. You take her for… ya know.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“For the easy disposal, boy.”
“Ya cut the girly up, or do whatever your preference is. Ya do whatever ya wanna do with her, and ya put her under the house. Ya bury her and your stained clothes under there too. Once the job’s done, no one’ll ever see that stuff again. It’s gone. Eventually, a brand new house is sitting on top of your deed.”
The bus rolled to a stop.
“Well, this is my stop.” He stood, patted my shoulder, and I recoiled. He walked off the bus.
The only thing running through my mind was a memory. I was a kid, no older than six. My friends and I were playing hide and seek. I hid in the crawl space under my front porch, and when I was hiding, I found a pair of boots half-buried in the dirt.
The exact same type of boots I was wearing then, on the bus. The exact same type of boots we’d found in the crawl spaces of every house in our neighborhood.