I walked past her everyday. The first time was probably the most difficult. I paused, discreetly looked at her, and then quickly shuffled away. I kept thinking, “I’ll buy her lunch one day, listen to her story, and change her life. I’ll be quite the hero.” Well, I never did. Not even close.
She had crutches, looked to be in her late sixties, but was probably a decade younger. She wore black from head to toe and would sit cross-legged by the telephone booth. As I walked by everyday, she would try to look me in the eyes and stick her hands out, gently rocking them up and down desperately crying for some sort of spare change. She mastered the look of pity. I expected her every morning so, about 100 feet away, I would purposely turn my head the other way from her simply to avoid eye contact. Everyone else would do the same.
Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and every other car only trust fund babies or lucky SOBs with oil in their backyards can afford parked on the side of that street. Down the street was a department store with window displays filled with trivial goods by Prada, Dior, and whatever other pompous rich man’s last name you can think of. I couldn’t afford even coffee in a cafe on that street. It made sense for her to sit there.
I once saw her limp halfway down the street and when she thought no one was watching, she finished the crosswalk with a normal stride. And I felt cheated. How dare she trick me and everyone else! The nerve she has to do such a thing, to practically steal from others. All she had to do was get off her bum and find a job, yet she lazily sat everyday taking from others. What a cop out, what a fraud. To think I was about to give her some of my money!
And that was it. I was never going to give her my money, I was looking for an excuse not to. I made the whole situation about me. The following days I’d look her right in the eye as I walked by, as if I was trying to send her a message that I knew her secret. I wanted her to feel shame for making me feel ashamed.
I never gave her money, never took her out to lunch, and never heard her story. I never spoke a word to her and I never acknowledged her presence as a human being. But six months after the last time I saw her and 3,945 miles apart she had managed to follow me; I finally figured out her story.
I remember seeing a teenage girl come up to her and hand her a cell phone. The girl looked to be related to her as they were conversing like mother and daughter.
She sat in the rain, the heat, the cold, the wind, and whatever cruel trick Mother Nature played that day. She sat there and she begged. She suffered rejection moment after moment. She dealt with stares and condescending whispers. Minute after minute she humiliated herself at the hope that someone would drop a coin into her hands. She lived off of people’s pity and it didn’t matter that she was a fraud. How bad does one’s situation have to be where you have to pretend to be crippled and homeless in order to survive?
Maybe it wasn’t money she really needed, but rather a chance. A chance to see the world past her telephone booth. A chance to have hope in humanity. A chance to think that life could get better, if not for her, then for her daughter. A chance to one day walk down the street without having to fake a limp. But I never gave her that chance, and to be honest, I doubt anyone ever will. At the end of the day, it was the jewel in that department store, or that car parked on the side of the road that I secretly desired. And I made excuses for that fiver in my pocket. I needed to pay this bill, I needed to buy this for so and so, when in reality that piece of paper was one step closer to the unattainable, superficial, materialistic dream that I wanted.
I wish I bought her lunch and listened to her story. I wish I gave her a glimpse at a chance.