Safe, The End

I passed the alcove the other day, the one I had seen her resting in from time to time, and was surprised to see a single candle burning there.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Life on the streets is not easy and life, regardless of where it is lived, only ever ends one way.  We will all have a candle lit in our memory at some point.  Still, I was surprised.

She was the inspiration for this series, these “Safe” posts.  I had seen her sitting in the alcove, smiling out at the warming day, as the princes and I passed along on our way to the park.  She wasn’t always there but she was there enough that it made me start to think about why she would be there and where she would go when she wasn’t there.  Each of these posts has been about my thoughts working through the life she had.  And now that life has come to an end so these posts will as well.

I will never know why she was on the streets in the first place and what caused her death.  I could speculate based on appearance, based on the observations I made on her behavior, but what purpose would that serve.  If I truly cared, I could have done more.  I could have done more than say “Hello” and offer the occasional donut or bottle of water or spare dollar from my pocket.  I could have asked her name.  I could have asked what she really needed rather than falling on what was easy for me to offer at the time.  My opportunities to do so, with her, have been missed.

If someone else claims the alcove once her candle has burned out and been swept away, will I do more?

Only time will tell.

Thank you for going on this journey with me.  When I wrote the first post I had no idea what it would become.  Without some encouragement from my readers it likely would have ended there.  I’m glad it didn’t.  I’m glad I forced my eyes to open a little more and to see the parts of my community that I most often ignored.  I wish it could have had a happier ending.  Though, in truth, I’m not sure what that would have looked like…  speculative fiction at best…  The real world rarely provides happy endings.  Death is inevitable.  And a candle will be lit if we are lucky enough to have people who care to light them.

That is something we should hope for.  That is something we should more than hope for.  We should work for it.  We should care about others and prove that we care through words and actions and thoughts and prayers and whatever it takes.  If we care, they will.  Then when it is our turn, the candles will be lit and those who strike the match and touch it to the wick will have happy memories to hold onto.  And there is the best happy ending any of us could hope for.

Safe 6

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.

rain

The ground was slick from the nearly invisible drops.  They were so light and tiny that he could barely feel them.  It was more like walking through a mist than normal rain but still was falling enough to accumulate on the concrete at his feet.  It had been a wet winter and he had been thoroughly enjoying it.  Rain was a special thing, a rare thing in his opinion, meant to be celebrated and enjoyed.  Perhaps that was a result of growing up in the desert where rain was scarce or perhaps that was just part of who he was, who he would have been regardless of where and how he was raised.

He used to go walking in the rain, let it pour over him, drench him, and exalt in the experience.  Then, frozen and dripping, peel off his clothes and take a warm shower.  Afterwards, he would curl up in a chair near a window and spend hours watching the rain, watching it catch the light, watching it slash sideways in the wind, watching pool.  He was enchanted by it.  In truth, he still was but no longer had the leisurely hours to spend in such a manner.

The sound of his steps echoed in the narrow corridor.  He walked under an awning, sheltered from the drizzle.  He longed to step out into the open and once again revel in the feeling of the water soaking into him but his responsibilities came first.  He had to finish his day at work.  Had to get home and spend time with his family and get his chores done.  Then, if it was still raining and all went smoothly, he might be able to carve out a few minutes to sit by the window and listen and watch.  In the meantime, his short walk around the building would have to suffice.  He was close enough he could reach out and touch the storm, even though he kept himself from it.

distance

The lights bobbed in the distance, as if the land had turned liquid and they were beacons moving up and down with the swells.  Blinking my tired eyes did little to stabilize the view.  This was nothing new, though.  My weak eyes had long had problems with lights at distance in the dark.  That sentence would remain true if it had just been distance.  The dark only made it worse.  Lights were a trick I would always fall for, a riddle I could never solve.

The lights continued to bounce and I carried on, trying to ignore them and their trickster commentary on my shortcomings.  The day would come and the lights would fade behind me and out of my memory while the sun took its place in my horizon.  The distance would solidify once more.  My sight would improve.  And the two, intertwined, would improve my mood even if only for a short time.  Sometimes that is all that is needed, a small moment of hope and brilliance, of clear sight, to fight against the darkness of our days and thoughts.

The lights crashed and retracted.  My mind raced.  The road beneath my tires slipped by from the darkness ahead to the darkness behind, the dashed yellow line ticking off the miles.  The lights, moving unnaturally in their swaying, hypnotizing, distracting way, tried to grab my attention, tried to suck me into their depths and I ignored them.  But, not entirely.  They held too much sway in the way they moved, like buoys on a rising sea, for me to forget them entirely.

pot of gold

dav

The colors burst across the sky in a banded arcing spectrum.  The warmth of the sun on their backs as they marveled at the bow was an odd sensation considering the icy drops of rain that still fell.  The puddles at their feet churned and their hair was soon drenched.  They stood in silence, mesmerized by the beauty and strangeness of the moment.  Then the storm shifted again and the rainbow faded away, taking its promise of gold with it.

The day held many such magical moments as the sun slipped in and out of view and the rain fell in starts and stops.  They never seemed to tire of it, though.  It didn’t become routine or mundane.  Each new spark of beauty was a reason to stop and revel.  Perhaps that was down to their youthful naivety?  Or, perhaps, that was the full power of nature on display?  The truth may never be known and doesn’t really matter anyway.  They didn’t need to know why the day was magical to appreciate it.