I’ve always been a coward. Or maybe just sensible and realistic. When I was young, just a girl really, going to my first job, I always saw this old woman, homeless, about a block from the bus stop. I meant to talk to her, every day I had that intent, but I never did. Sometimes I’d put change in her cup, but I always rushed away before words could be exchanged. I wanted to understand but I was afraid.
Fast forward fifty years—and let me tell you, those years did past fast. I’m not working. My dear Lloyd made sure I’d never need to again. He loved and protected me until he died of a heart attack at the office. Since that day a year ago, I’ve been going for my morning walks and I see this old homeless woman. She looks like the same woman I saw when I was a young girl, but that’s impossible. The first woman is as dead as the young girl I once was.
But this woman, too, was homeless and begging. Well, not actively begging. Just lying on a grate with a cup next to her. Most days she’s saying something, but her voice is weak and I can’t hear.
Still, I think about talking to her. I want to know who she is and how she came to live on the street. I want to know if anyone loved her and is, perhaps, dead like Lloyd. What I want to do, actually, is take her home and offer her tea and biscuits and the spare bedroom that belonged to Gene before he grew up and moved away.
But I’m certain the co-op board wouldn’t have it. And what do I know about this woman? She might give me a terrible disease. She might be crazy, violent. I need to be sensible like the co-op board. That’s true, but it’s also true that I don’t have the courage of my heart.
I married Lloyd because I was afraid to talk to the man I really loved. I quit working instead of pursuing the career I wanted because I was afraid I might fail and Lloyd wanted me at home with Gene. I’ve always done the expedient thing. Anything else would be scary.
So, today I talked with the homeless woman. I asked her about her life; I asked her to come home with me. I pleaded. I had tears in my eyes.
She thanked me but said no. She was more comfortable where she was, on the street. Then she sat back down on the grate. The steam obscured her face. It turns out we’re bother cowards. I was relieved, secretly relieved yet unsettled.
She’ll die there on the grate, me in my Park Avenue apartment, neither of us knowing what might have been. I won’t get too upset though. “What might have been” might have been a disaster.