Her eyes lit up. Blue. Pale. Her skin was dirty, skin weathered, chin sunburnt, and a huge genuine smile that broke you open again. Again. Linda, you’d chatted a few times on Main Street over the months. Her and the backpack, talking of camping in the park out of sight. “I’ll be alright, won’t I?” she’d asked and you’d said yes. You think she was.
You waved at her this morning. She was walking slowly up State, the farmers’ market out in force. She stopped at your voice. She lit up seeing you. You chatted, glad she was okay. Then she asked you for money for a supposed ticket. Instinct kicked in and you said “no, I can’t help.”
But you gave her $3.25 in quarters from your front pocket.
“I’m going home to my mom. I need to catch the bus today, that’s what she said. She worries about me for some reason.”
“They do that,” you joked.
You talked about how much the bus ticket was – $35, how much she needed – $8 total, and perhaps she could ask at the market? Feeling shy today, she muttered.
She again asked for your help. You lied. You fucking lied to her.
In your back pocket was $25 in cash. You never have cash. You’d just bought and eaten a fresh ham and cheese croissant for $4.50. She’d only asked for another $5 for a ticket home to her mom and you’d lied? For fuck’s sake, Sleam. You chatted a bit more, crossed the road together and then she walked to the bus stop anyway.
You walked away.
The sun beat down.
Hot day ahead.
Your cool apartment.
Fans blurring the edges.
Cash in pocket.
Croissant crumbs on your tee shirt.
You’d lied to Linda.
You walked around Bear Pond Bookstore, tempted by another collection of essays that you don’t need. You walked out. Linda sat on a concrete bench in the shade of an Ash tree, stretching out one leg, pack at her feet. You called her name and gave her a fiver.
Her face lit up. You chatted together. Again.
You walked away, crying. You? You… No, me, but you knew that, right? Yes.
I had lied to Linda.
Wishing her a safe trip home, I turned home and began to cry again because I’m so fucking angry at the world and life and me me me and for fuck’s sake, someone asked for help and you didn’t want-that is, I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone and I couldn’t shut down and so my heart broke again and I cried. I am now. I’ve been there: Broke. Homeless. Reaching out. And helped by strangers for their own reasons.
Linda gets to see her mom.
I wish I could see mine one more time.