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Early Refund 

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The evening rush is on along Broadway in a near-constant flow that sounds more like white noise than cars. People walk past me, some coming out of the Berwyn el station. Along this stretch, Broadway and the el form both border and barrier between two distinct neighborhoods: To the west the largely white, affluent Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood with its large old single-family homes, and west of that Andersonville. To the east, people of many different skin colors and backgrounds live in Section 8 units, low-market-rate apartments, and some single-family homes.

A woman walks out of the neighborhood to the east. I watch her because she moves so much more slowly than everyone else, without the apparent desire to hurry somewhere warm. Her coat seems not to button anymore, her shoes flop without laces around her sockless feet. Her skin, which may have been a deep brown once, has a gray cast to it, even in the evening light. Holding her coat closed with her hands, she approaches two young men. One wears a bright orange winter coat, the other a blue Bears jacket. In conversation, the woman is animated, pressing her point. I hear her say, "This' shit that don't burn." She takes a small object out of her pocket, and the man in the Bears coat examines it. Barely past 20, he nevertheless seems older than the man in orange.

The woman repeats her point loud enough for many to hear: "This' shit that don't burn." The man in the Bears coat makes an exaggerated show of pocketing the shit that didn't burn, then pulls out a small wad of bills, saying things like "taking care of my customers," and "keeping my people happy." His voice is louder than it needs to be if he intends only the woman to hear him. A younger boy stands a few steps away taking it all in. The man in the Bears jacket hands a few bills to the woman. They talk a bit more, and then she walks back toward the east. My bus arrives, and I get on. When I sit down and look out the window, the two businessmen and their young intern have gone.

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