who sits on the corner in front of the Safeway, nearly every day. Sometimes she has cheap hairbands and little hair barrettes to sell, mostly for little girls. Today I saw that she had beads for making bracelets. I’ve also seen her just sitting there, with nothing at all. Always in the same spot.
The first day I ever gave her something, I was coming home from Safeway, my arms weighted down with bags. I waited at the corner, for that dreadful light that takes so long to change. She complimented me on my tights and when I said thank-you, she proceeded to tell me that she was a panhandler and had things to sell. She has a way of sounding really heartbroken. I told her I’d think about it, but I had to get home and I lived just over there. I realized how stupid I sounded, telling her where I lived. She made possibly the most disappointed expression that I’ve ever seen; no others stick in my memory. I felt torn.
Later on that day, I went back to Safeway, managing to avoid her while she talked to other people. I came out of the store with only a bag this time. I had planned what I was going to say to her. She must not have recognized me because she complimented my tights again. When she asked for money, I told her that I don’t carry cash (usually true). She then asked if I could do her a favour and buy her some potato wedges from the Safeway because she’d hardly made anything that day and hadn’t had anything to eat. I turned and walked right back into the store and bought her one of the last bags. I also bought her a bottle of smoothie, because I couldn’t bear the thought of her just eating potato wedges with nothing to drink . I threw in some ketchup and those free crackers you get when you buy soup. I should’ve felt better that I was doing something good, but I mostly felt annoyed. She told me that she was a mother with kids to support. If she couldn’t even make enough for food today, I thought, why is she wasting her time on the street? She was clearly surprised when I returned, and overjoyed to receive the bag of stuff. I tried to quell my irritation and use this experience to feel better about myself.
Now, when I’m not going to Safeway, I’ll cross different streets to avoid her. Sometimes I’ll walk behind a group of people who are intent on ignoring her, so she’ll think she shouldn’t bother. I feel like a jerk for having these strategies. I’ve interacted with beggars and panhandlers before, but I’ve never had to deal with them literally in my neighbourhood. I used to disdain people who looked right through them; now I’m becoming one of them. I think about her kids more than I should, wondering if they go to school knowing what she does. I think about how much money I have in my bank account — not as a number, but as a concept. I’m incredibly wealthy for someone in my age group, even though I like to think I’m financially frugal. Like her, I can’t support myself while living in this city. I really have no idea if my judgement of her is justified. I saw a policeman talking to her, but a few days later, she was back on the corner. Clearly, they can’t help her.
I have no idea how to deal with desperate people. She probably recognizes me by now. What will she do when it gets cold out?
This isn’t the story of a bleeding heart.