Anything said here may sound cliche; but I have to get this off my heart-bones.
She was grey, HIV+ and homeless. I got details, I asked !
it was 7 pm in the sidewalk off Just Bakes. She began to smile, and the thing (smile) threatened towards a friendship. I backed a few miles in my heart.
The last time my coronaries succumbed to a daughter’s sweet pleading eyes, we got six puppies from a dying momma furry friend: six newborns that grew over night into pot-bellied wiggle-tailed creatures with wet mouths yelling for more. We had neighborhood kids arriving in droves, before those lil paws left in a red Breathing box to nearby Shelter. That took weeks to sort with grief counselling and pup pictures still blinking at us from digital albums too much to delete..
but This is a human being.
the woman has a sweetness, I recall thinking. Who had turned her onto the streets? She was from Tirupathy, a State at least 7 hours by rail from where I am. (No more free Hospitals for HIV patients, with Covid; Aids aid ceased). The Ugh irony of that fell right in the growing gap between the woman and me as I took a slow step away. She was here for help, but every door had shut, even her own home.
What can one do but pass on a little currency and try move fast;
then it happened. You can only know the depth of That if you’ve ever been quiet around other quiet people; or those that are noisy on the outside to shut the silence on the inside;
all this 2 evenings ago, by Just Bakes.
What goes on when the human guard is down? This little woman got my guard down for one tiny second. She was smiling a careful smile, as if afraid to insult the proper *bridge we have built between visible and invisible sections of society. Looking back I will forever admire her for standing there tall in her four foot frame, a grey sari tattering in our deccan chilly November.
The little woman now stood outlined against Thermocol snowflakes in store windows with Lee Cooper and plastic mistletoe. She said there was no money for medicines and food, nor anywhere to sleep at night. My ears began to buzz. When I asked where she’d sleep tonight, she pointed in the vague direction of a dwarf palm tree sprouting mid- pavement by ArtWood. Nice Art Store. Two and three worlds were clashing without my permit. The woman wore broken glasses, no slippers and a loose hair knot, besides which a certain dignity wore her.
The more I write this, the more certain I am that human words are limited. My words are limited. They know structures from a social life that will flee from the smell of the Unknown. Most of us are Controllers who may not even discuss considering helping other factors that have never been legally controlled. Like Homelessness.
Taking another step away, I nodded at this woman with the slight smile. As I walked, she did not move. When I looked back she was waving, like she’d been waving even when I wasn’t looking.
9 ish pm, she followed me, room to room at home. The next day, all that evening, I could still see her fragile frame, grey with Time and its accessories : its details of other people’s crimes in her. Even mine.
7 pm Lastnight I was back at Just Bakes. We’d made a deal at home to go back and look for her, bring her home for one day till we sorted out an NGO that could take her in: this after my fabulous threat, “Can I be with her the night then, wherever, till morning when we find shelter..? ”
I turned a cartwheel inside. We had located “Auto Raja” do check this one. It is mind blowing what an Ex Auto driver is doing, unconditionally for the most reject of us.
It beats every last credulity what humans can do,
only, the little woman was not to be seen anywhere.
By what miracle had I expected her to be there as she’d stood exactly 24 hours earlier – waving like an old friend;
I needed a good walk; searched for cookies to take home, searched the street, the next and the next. My bag bulged with a shawl meant for ‘our’ ride home; sure I wouldn’t have gotten any HIV just sitting next to someone in that ride back. There was an extra blanket and pillow at home, there was space enough. She’d need a bath. All that. Only, the little person wasn’t there.
I will always search for her, with a craving to warm those shrivelled arms and broken eyes. It is not such a big city, here. I am delighted with this new pursuit : locating Shelters for deserving humans. One NGO read, “If you can’t feed a hundred, feed one.” Love that.
Where’s my sweet St.Homeless gone;
am going out in an hour now. What if, hey what if she’s there in some nondescript corner of a crossing; will I have lost the capacity to be unafraid to host an unknown human in our warm home where we live in Season’s cheer, not because we worked harder or better, but because Life will happen the way it does in dimensions we have no exit from, except that we care for at least one other stranger, as much as for our own skin, on *Bridges we dare cross now and then, when our Fears get dwarfed by basic human incredulity at another’s aloneness;
how high can I reach, how low will I go; at some point we will stop blaming parliaments, priests and unseen kingdoms for things within the capacities of our own kitchens and extra blankets:
at some point we will begin to try. And if we fail we will try again. “If we can’t feed a hundred, feed one.” Find help. There are more saints among the living than we suspect.
Am still looking for that little woman. Till then, there’ll always be a certain thing in me that shrinks at the way I walked away from a tattered face that could smile like that.