The change clattered onto the counter. "One cup of Joe," the bum mumbled while settling himself onto the stool. His face was blotchy red and his hands trembled. Patches of blue were visible here and there on his coat, but mostly it was gray streaked with brown. A fit of coughing racked his body. The barista looked at the man in disgust; he quickly counted the coins, trying his best to touch them as little as possible, and then turned to make the coffee. "Here," he snapped, setting the cup in front of the bum. "Hurry up with it and move on. You're making my guests uncomfortable."
The bum glanced around the room. It was nearly empty. The one exception was a young woman seated three seats down from him. She was watching him with interest. He nodded to her and turned back to the barista. "Sure," he chuckled. He took a slow sip of his coffee and sighed. "There's nothing like coffee to warm a man's..." loud, hacking coughs interuppted his words, doubling him over. He gasped for air and then straightened up, "bones." he finally finished.
The barista just glared at him.
The young woman moved to sit next to the bum, "Hello," she said, "I'm sorry. I couldn't help noticing you sitting here alone. That cough sounds bad. Are you okay?"
The bum nodded, "I'm fine."
"I don't believe you."
The bum laughed mirthlessly, "Nobody seems to."
The woman beckoned to the barista. "Give him his change back. I'll cover his tab, whatever he wants, make sure he gets it."
The bum shook his head, "You don't need to do that lady. I'm no charity case."
She laughed, "I never said you were."
They lapsed into silence. The barista counted back the bums change and dropped it on the counter.
Thirty minutes later the bum left. His changed remained on the counter; he drank his coffee and nothing more. The woman watched him go, wondering what had brought him to his current state.