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She was trying to hand the cup of money to me! Either the lady who had been upset about something earlier or the lady who had tried to hug me for some reason was trying to hand a cup of money to me.

Did she want me to hold it while she used the bathroom? Was she trying to give me a gift? Why would someone put money in a coffee cup?

“Pass it to the person next to you.” she said, in a tone of voice that told me I should know this already. I passed it to the person next to me.

The person next to me put something in it. Probably money, because that was what was already in it. Was I supposed to have put money in it? It didn’t matter, because I didn’t have any money.

*

“Are you going to buy food?” my mother asked before I entered the open mic.

“No.” I said. I wasn’t going to buy food; I was heading straight to the open mic.

Days later, in another café, I put money in a tip jar. It occurred to me that at the open mic, I had seen someone put money in a tip jar. I realized that the open mic had been held in a café. I decided next time I would buy food.

Next time, I walked into the open mic and sat down in a chair. I thought: I am going to buy food. I thought for a while about buying food. I couldn’t remember how I was supposed to do it. I thought asking someone near me “How do you buy food?” or “Will you help me buy food?” would make people see me as stupid and probably greedy. Then I realized I didn’t have any money. The open mic was starting.

*

The time after that, I remembered to bring money so I could buy food. But I couldn’t remember how to buy food. Through three poems, I wondered how to buy food. I noticed that people buying food moved around the counter in a way profoundly different than people usually move around a food counter. I decided there were probably other food buying rules I didn’t understand, even if I could remember how buying food usually worked. Between two poems, I ran up and put the money in the tip jar.

*

At the end of the open mic, they passed a hat full of money. I heard someone saying they were passing the hat for the venue. I knew the venue was the café but I still wasn’t sure what that meant. Did it mean they were going to put the stuff in the hat in the tip jar? In that case, was it okay that I didn’t have money with me because I had put it all in the tip jar? I knew I was supposed to put money in the hat because I remembered scenes in books. I reached down for my backpack, which might have money in it. Then I realized it was on my lap. Then I realized it wasn’t on my lap, my coat was on my lap and I hadn’t brought my backpack.

I realized that the hat was like the cup, and that meant they were probably going to pass something again next time. I realized that the hat was like the cup, and that meant that if I didn’t have money, I was supposed to pass it to the person next to me. But people were milling around, and I could not tell who was next to me, and I knew from how loud it was that if I asked someone I would not understand their answer. I didn’t know what else to do, so I got up and ran out the door.

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