She’d been standing most of the day and the few times she had sat down to give her legs a break the cold, hard cement had not provided much relief. It had needed to be done, though. She had run low on funds again and the gnawing low in her belly had forced her to go out and stand on the corner while also giving her the fire to stay long after she would have otherwise. She was exhausted all the same. Despite the chill in the air, the sun had taken its normal toll. Her feet ached. Her joints ached. Her back ached. Her eyelids seemed to weigh more than the rest of her head and as they closed in slow blinks her whole head tilted down with them.
Perhaps it was ill-timed to attempt crossing the street during one such blink but she was tired and thoughtfulness of decisions decrease as exhaustion increases. Wind whistled past her as one car after another careened too close for comfort. She hadn’t seen them coming. Had she even looked? She was certain she had? Certain and yet uncertain. Of all the streets she crossed in a day in her normal wanderings and collections, who could tell if she was remembering this most recent one or any of the ones that came before.
Stumbling backwards, away from the road and buffeting wind of the passing cars, she tripped over the curb and fell painfully to her butt. Tendrils of agony arced up her back and arms. She sat there until the pain subsided. Then she continued to sit there, unsure where the strength would come from to regain her feet. The fire that had driven her earlier had disappeared with the first rush of air that had pressed her away from the traffic. She had nothing left in her. She needed to move, though. She couldn’t curl up where she was to sleep. She still needed food. She needed to eat and then find her way to one her safe spots before night fell.
Where had all those cars come from? Did they really think they needed to honk? What purpose did that serve, she was already off the road? Was a single one of them going the speed limit? Had a single one of them ever spent the night away from the shelter of their roofs and walls?
She couldn’t answer. She wasn’t them.
She tried to stay upbeat and usually succeeded. For the most part she understood that her situation was of her own making and there means by which she could return to a normal life. She chose not to. That didn’t mean, however, that those who did fall into societal norms should make things harder on her, couldn’t at least have some empathy for her. She didn’t want their pity. Pity and empathy are not the same. She accepted money from those who felt like giving. She didn’t beg. She stood on corners or in front of stores and people gave when they felt like it for whatever reason compelled them to. She never asked. Those who gave just did. Perhaps they did so out of pity sometimes but that was beyond her control.
The drivers still careening down the street could move ever so slightly away from the curb. They could see her sitting there and adjust their wheels to move the car a few inches further away. It cost them nothing to do so and made a world of difference for her. It would be less effort than those who chose to remove a hand from the wheel and honk their horns. Those few inches kept the wind from buffeting her fiercely. Some did move but most did not. She wondered if they would move if it was their wife, their daughter, their grandmother sitting on the curb or if they were so self-absorbed that they wouldn’t notice anyone regardless of who it was. That couldn’t have been all of it, though, for she was being noticed. The honks were proof of that.
A fire, small but still burning, returned and she pushed herself to her feet. Her eyes, clearer now, scanned the traffic for an opening and then she strode across the road with confidence. The coins and bills in her pockets jangled as she moved. Soon she would trade those funds in for food and then she would have even more strength to make the journey to where she would spend the night. While she slept her anger would subside and she would be fresh again in the morning, hopeful for what the new day may bring.