Things are not always what they seem
The interview seemed to have gone well. They said they would get back to me soon. I believe they will. What a beautiful day. The light breeze flowing in from the bay. The sun just beginning its downward arc in the sky. A great day for a walk, thinking about dinner tonight with Julie.
"Ahhh" The scram came from an elderly lady up ahead who had fallen on the hot pavement.
"Can I help you up? Are you ok?"
'Yes thank you. And yes, I am ok. Just a silly old lady falling down like a drunk. Which I am not, by the way. Thank you for asking. Oh my lord. My stuff. They fell out of my wagon. They are all over the street!"
"I'll pick it all up for you. Just sit here on this bench. Catch your breath"
I looked up at her as I started to pick up her "stuff"', as she called it. She took a napkin out of the left side of her blue knitted sweater and proceeded to carefully wipe the green public bench, before sitting on it. She could be 65 or she could be 50. The streets can do that to someone, I guess. At least that was what he always read in his social study and psychology classes, when he was still in school. Her clothes were ill fitting, wrinkled, not matched. They were also clean, as she was. There was no foul smell, on either her or her clothing.
Her stuff consisted of canned food and other food products that can be picked up at food pantries and garbage cans. They were all clean as if they had just come out of the local grocery store. He picked them up and put them back in the bags and then into the wagon, on top of the bags of clothes, that occupied the lower half of the wagon. He wondered how she came to be here, in this state.
She was watching him, observing him. He could feel it. He looked up at her as she reached back into her sweater pocket, taking out a long string of bright white beads. Counting each item as he placed them in her wagon.
Pedestrians walked wide around the bench that she was seated on. Some glanced sideways at her as they passed. Pity showing on their faces. Others past her with a look of disgust. Most just past. Could this be what life holds for him? Twenty years ago, was she the one kneeling on the hard concrete, of the city streets, picking up the "stuff", of some street person.
Watching her for all these minutes, as she counted on her beads, he realized that she was younger then he thought. The wrinkles on her face were from a difficult life, gifts deposited over many years. Her clean but uncombed hair hung long below her shoulders. Her skin was dark, and leathery, from too much time spent in the sun, for a pale skinned woman. Her cheekbones mouth and nose were in perfect proportion to the shape of her face. She may have been a model once. Her most striking feature were her eyes. A blue green ocean set deep in the caverns of their sockets. Their gaze reaching out, watching his every movement, counting every can, expecting his betrayal. She knew it would come. It always did. She just waited and watched.
"I believe I got all of it."
Her posture was bent forward. Her head kept moving up and down. She was not nodding her approval, but her involuntary movement her body made. Minute, almost imperceptive, and constant. Her head bobbed up and down. My god, she's appraising me! Making a decision. He finally stood up, still watching her stare at him. She still made no move to get up and take her shopping cart, filled with what he assumed were her life belongings. He moved the cart closer to her, expecting her to grab the handle. She made one big affirmative movement with her head as she stood.
"Follow me", she said and started to walk away.
I stood there, my right hand still holding the handle of her wagon, watching her begin her slow walk away. Three steps. Four steps. She walked and I stared.
"Well don't just stand there. I have things to do," she shouted turning around.
She turned and took another three steps. I followed. I did not know why. She walked slowly. Her feet barely lifting above the grey, hot, pavement. When they crossed over a couple of squares of cobblestone, her steps slowed, becoming more deliberate.
He quickened his step to support her, prepared to let go of her wagon and catch her if she stumbled. She didn't. He did.
"Please be more careful with my belongings", she said in a raised voice. "Those things are very valuable. Now please hurry up, and for Judy Garland's sake, be careful. If you need me to, I can walk slower so you can keep up. But we need to hurry.
I just stared up at her, kneeling on the cobblestones that he had fallen on. My left knee was bleeding a little from scraping along the stone as he fell. The knee of his slacks ripped. He quickly picked up the few items that fell out of the wagon, putting them back in, carefully. She stared down at him with those deep eyes. Watching, making sure he did not miss anything
"Come on now", she said. "No time to sightsee. I have things to do"
I stood there. She turned and continued walking, certain that I would follow. I did.
It was not as if I had anywhere to go. Dressed for a job interview that morning that had not gone well. I always think it went well. "We will contact you shortly', they all say shaking his hands warmly and showing him the door. I looked down at my torn pants and wondered if they could be repaired.
She continued to walk down the street at a faster pace, which I did not expect. At times, she would stop at a garbage can or bag. I felt uncomfortable as she reached in. I looked at my torn slacks and wondered if the people walking by thought we were together. That I was one of them.
She did not stop at all of them, just some. Opening bags, she would reach and move items around. Sometimes, when her hands came out of the bag they were not empty. They would contain a can or bottle, never opened. She then reached into her left pocket. Taking out a package of wipes, removing one, which she would use to carefully clean the removed item. holding the item up, lifting her head and carefully observing her catch. Sometimes she would continue to wipe the Item. Twice she shook her head and placed it back in the garbage bag. When it met her satisfaction she smiled, walked to the wagon, and carefully place it into the wagon.
She continued this for 10 blocks. Never addressing me, acknowledging my assistance, when she placed the item in the wagon. Suddenly she stopped, turned and walked back to the wagon empty handed. Grabbing the handle wagon handle, taking it from me, she finally looked up at me.
"I will be at that bench next week at the same time." She turned and continued further down the block. Not stopping at any of the garbage bags and cans she passed.
I don't know what I expected. Maybe thank you. I do not know why I followed her to this point. I knew I was not coming back.