safe 3

This is the third installment in the safe series of posts.

…..

The coins were strangely warm against her cold flesh.  She continued to smile and said, “Thank you.”  The man wasn’t listening.  He had already walked away after dropping the change into her cupped hands.  She gave thanks anyway.  She always did.  Her gratefulness was not contingent on him.  She didn’t need to know why they gave and she didn’t need them to know that she was thankful.

She moved the coins to her pocket and went back to rubbing her hands together.  The cold wind bit harshly that morning.  Even standing in the sun she was having trouble staying warm.  Soon she would need to seek shelter but she didn’t want to go in too soon.  She didn’t like hiding so early in the day.  It might set a precedent.  She didn’t need any more excuses to stay separated from society.  The further she got the harder it would be to return one day.  Though, she already wasn’t sure if she even wanted to return.

She’d lived on the streets for so long they had become the only home she remembered.  In the back of her mind, in thoughts she kept pushed away for several reasons, she had a vague notion of roofs and tables, refrigerators and heaters, warm sunlight filtering through glass panes and wind kept at bay behind shutters.  These were abstracts, though.  She didn’t know if she actually missed any of those things or if they would just be nice from time to time.  She could find the equivalent when they were absolutely needed.

Another patron left the store, pushing a cart overloaded with groceries, food she could live on for months.  She smiled and the woman avoided eye contact but then stopped and turned around.  After fishing through her purse the woman came up with some coins.  She cupped her hands and said “Thank you.”  The woman said, “You’re welcome,” but had already turned and the words were nearly lost on the wind.  A moment later, the woman and her stuffed cart were lost from view among the sea of giant cars.

A howl erupted from the parking lot, the wind whipping around tires in gusts and gales.  She shivered as the blast tore at her hands.  Not yet.  Not yet time to slip away.  Soon, though.  She would need to get out of the wind and cold soon or she would risk getting sick and all the money she had gathered that day would be spent on medicine instead of a meal.

She added the coins to her meagre collection and let her hands stay hidden.  The thin fabric of her worn pants did little to protect her hands from the cold but shivering tended to turn more people away.  That was a lesson she had learned her first winter on the streets.  If she looked miserable people avoided her more.  It seemed counter intuitive but people so often are.

The wind eased back and the sun returned to full strength for a moment.  The doors slid open and another customer pushed their cart out.  She smiled at them but they pretended not to see her standing there.  She kept right on smiling.  Their disinterest had no bearing on her hope.

safe

She spent her mornings hidden in the cart return of a closed grocery store.  The alcove provided shade and gave her some privacy to just be, away from the judging eyes she dealt with the rest of the day and away from the predatory eyes that came out of the night.  Sometimes the patrons visiting the neighboring stores would catch a glimpse of her and hurry their steps away.  Other times they would stop to talk, or offer money and food and she accepted those.  She never asked for their charity, though.  She didn’t stand out in the open with a sign, announcing her presence and begging.  That wasn’t really what she wanted even if it was what she needed.

Her only possessions were never out of hands’ reach, in an old and battered backpack she had picked up somewhere along the way.  When she found herself with extra cash, for one reason or another, she would go to a laundromat and wash her clothes.  Once she even splurged on a hotel room so she could have a proper bed and a hot shower.  That had been a long time ago, though, and she couldn’t remember when it exactly was.  Just as she could no longer remember the story that went with each of her missing teeth.  She knew some had rotted out and some had met more sudden ends but that was the end of it.  She kept her nails long and her hair short.  Occasionally she would pal around with others like her but for the most part she enjoyed solitude.  She found it hard to trust people and she had found there was usually more safety in being alone.  Everyone has issues and when she was by herself she only had to deal with her own.  But humans are social creatures and when she felt the craving for someone to talk to she would visit the places where she knew she could find someone.  Then it was only a matter of striking up a conversation and finding someone to pal around with for a couple days.

As the foot traffic in the shopping center picked up, she would pack up her bag and wander off.  There were a series of parks nearby where she could sit in the shade of a tree to pass the hottest part of the day.  Then as they heat began to dissipate, when the nightly marine later rolled back in from the coast, she would head towards the spots she knew she’d be safer during the long hours of darkness.  Just safer.  There was never a guarantee of absolute safety no matter where she went.  But, as she had realized when she made the decision to live on the streets, homes only provide the illusion of safety as well, there is no place that is and will always be completely safe.