by Kisha Montgomery

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am watching him sleep in the corner. He is slumped over a book in the children’s section and you cannot see his face under the series of greased curls that extend to his shoulder.

He is buying time, even though he is unable to buy the book. Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

His hands are spread flat on the book and the dirt under his nails give the impression that he has dug his way through life. He is breathing heavy — asleep, hunched over the book like a guardian, a keeper of a sacred text — a keeper of the book.
The management employees don’t ask him to leave. I feel the humanity in their decision to let him be, even though customers are looking at him warily. They pass through the section, giving him a wide berth or skipping the section completely when they see him.
He snores deeply, and wakes himself up into a frenzied scan around the room. He is a cornered cat, ready to defend his right to be there. The wild look in his eyes says it all: “I am reading! My book is open! No one can say that I am not reading!”
He is looking to see who is looking at him, because he knows his right to rest, to warmth, to shelter, is tentative.
He knows that a frown or a raised eyebrow by a customer can translate to a loose tongue, a whispered complaint. “I mean I feel sorry for the guy, but” the loose tongue speaks and eyes wax compassion, but it is the unspoken that is the loudest. “I feel sorry for the guy, but … (unspoken) he is compromising my privilege to not be bothered by what is ‘out there.’”
He finds sanctuary in the written word, praying it can hold him, until it can’t. He knows that too many frowns or  raised eyebrows will translate to a small tug of his jacket, a kind or maybe not-so-kind tap on the shoulder and small words with large repercussions: “Sorry, but you have to go,” or “Alright buddy.”
But for now it has not happened. He can escape from reality in the written word — just like everybody else.
He slowly nods forward, snorts awake, twists his head in hypervigilance, turns a page in the book, flattens his hands and falls asleep again. Is he the keeper of the book or is the book a keeper of him? It doesn’t matter.
He is buying time, even though he is unable to buy the book.