The first time I saw her was last summer. She was waiting in line at the neighborhood supermarket. Her exposed belly was round and perfect. Speaking in a soft and polite tone, she asked Maya — the cashier — if she could pay on the following day. “I forgot to bring money,” she said with downcast eyes. Maya told her that there was no charge for a day-old croissant anyway.
I love Maya.
She thanked Maya and left. I bought food for the homeless people I’d seen in the nearby park, but they were gone by the time I got back. Leaving the park, I ran into the woman again. The large designer shopping bags she was holding caught my attention. They seemed odd because all the shopping centers had closed hours before.
I realized she was probably homeless.
I started a conversation with her, looking for an excuse to give her some food: sometimes all people have left is their dignity. Then she mentioned that the bakery next door had refused to heat up her croissant. “I happen to have some food that I don’t need,” I said in the most causal tone I own. “Would you be interested?” She wouldn’t take the food before I assured her that I wasn’t hungry.
When she was about to leave, I asked, “Do you have anywhere to stay?”
“I have nature,” she replied.
“That’s great. But maybe you have a family; someone to go to.”
“I have no one.” She paused, and then added, “But God takes care of me. I trust only in God. And I can sleep at a café that’s open 24/7.”
I didn’t know what else to say without being too intrusive. We went our separate ways, and I regretted it almost immediately.
I stopped by the supermarket again and told Maya that I was concerned about that woman. I speculated that maybe she was pregnant. Maya knew her from her previous visits to the supermarket. “She is not pregnant,” Maya said. “She is a prostitute and an alcoholic.”
“A woman in prostitution: not a prostitute,” I said.
“You should be careful,” Maya continued. “She could get violent.”
I went to Movieing café, and just as I walked in, it dawned on me: if she was a woman in prostitution, maybe an alcoholic as well, I knew of a great organization that could help her. Either way, I shouldn’t have left her without finding a solution for her.
Mishori, a good friend who works at Movieing, saw my distraught face. “Are you OK, Lilac?” he asked.
“I just missed an opportunity to help someone,” I replied.
Despite Maya’s warnings, I hurried back to the park. It was dark and deserted. Then I went back to the supermarket and asked Maya to let me know if she ever saw that woman again. Maya didn’t see her again. Then Maya quit her job at the supermarket.
A few nights ago, the woman resurfaced in the neighborhood. She was holding one of the same designer shopping bags, this time just one small bag. She was dressed fashionably yet casually. Wearing a huge hat, she held many little plastic bags in her hands as well. As I watched her, she walked into the bakery. I didn’t know what else to do but wait until she headed in my direction.
“Hello,” I said when she finally left the bakery and started to walk past me. Feeling very awkward, I asked, “Do you remember me?”
For a second, she looked confused. Then she said, “We talked a while ago.”
“Yes, and ever since then, I’ve been worried about you and looking for you.” I paused. I couldn’t miss this opportunity. “I want to help you.”
“There is nothing to worry about. I’m doing great, and I even have my own place now.”
“That’s wonderful.” Then I asked, “Can I buy you dinner?”
“No need,” she replied. “And I can buy you dinner, too.”
“I have to go now. I don’t want to miss the last bus. But call me and come to visit me. I will tell you my story.”
“What’s your name?” I asked after she had given me her phone number.
“Messiah,” she replied. And then she left.
(Click here for A Woman Called Messiah, Part II)