| by Marie Williams |
The homeless woman’s back bowed as her feet shuffled along the shadowed walls of the slums. A brisk wind groped her partially shredded coat as if by an invisible hand. She shivered, leaning heavily on a buggy she pushed from block to block as if making herself lower would shelter her from the bitter cold.
Her few pieces of clothing were either on her body, or in the buggy. She made a mental note of her belongings…a blanket, scarf, one hat, partially fingered gloves, and bulk package of paper she had picked out of the dumpster including one gold plated ink pen. She found a small wooden box to store her prized possession. ( An added bonus.) No one understood the fascination with the pen. They merely chalked it up as senility.
The dirty blanket was her welcome reprieve from the bitter cold night, as she hovered under a darkened stairwell to sleep. She used her buggy as a shield to keep out the imbibers and other intruders. (Most never bothered to attempt to enter.)
She was often seen scrapping for food behind restaurants and dumpsters. The bagel shop manager intentionally left morsels on paper plates behind the shop at the end of the day.
Frank stepped quickly to the other side of the street in an attempt to avoid the ‘Bag Lady.’ By putting distance between them, he thought that these miserable pangs of guilt that wearied him day and night would somehow go away, but they didn’t. Night after night, he saw the woman’s face in his dreams, and heard her cries out of the darkness of night. There was little escape from his torment.
Slinging the covers off of his legs, Frank slipped on his fleece-lined house shoes, as he jerked his housecoat off the foot of the bed. He decided a warm cup of mocha might be just what he needed to lull him back to a peaceful slumber. But sleep did not come.
Bag Lady lit a partially used candle she found in the alley near the candle shop. She made a makeshift table of boxes, and pulled out her gold plated pen. She dug through her buggy for clean paper she stored in her wooden box. She turned over a bucket obtained from the supermarket manager earlier in the day. He chuckled when she asked to buy it, but told her she could just call it a gift. Sitting on the bucket, Bag Lady began to write.
Finishing his cup of mocha, Frank strolled to the sink, glancing out the kitchen window. His thoughts quickly turned once again to the bag lady. He wondered if she was safe, if she might be in a shelter, or was she cold and frightened. Tears began to flow. Why was he doing this? He had not cried for years, especially over something like this. What difference did it make to him? After all, she wasn’t His Problem! With a huff, he stomped back to the bedroom slamming the door behind him. He determined to put this woman out of his mind once and for all.
Bag Lady finished her writing, folding the papers, she then placed them into the wooden box . Tucking away her treasured pen, she organized her things in her buggy; then grabbed her blanket to settle in for the night. She heard sounds as if someone was rummaging through her buggy, then footsteps running....or was she merely dreaming?
Sleep had come quickly, but was short-lived due to cold howling winds. How she longed for warmth and one night of uninterrupted sleep.
“Trash,” groaned Frank, “Always so much trash.” He leaned down to picking up a piece of paper. Quickly reading it, he then tossed it in a nearby trashcan. Murmuring about all the homeless people in the city, he continued to walk to his office. Frank hated admitting the truth, but he knew he took this route just to check up on her. “Strange,” he mumbled,” “ She’s usually around this time of morning.”
He remembered the ambulance sirens earlier in route, but quickly passed cast the thoughts aside. Sirens were so frequent in that part of town that it could have been anyone. But... what if? Could it be? Franks mind began to race. Surely it wasn’t her!! “ Oh God, please, not her…. don’t let it be her,” Frank attempted prayer as panic arose in his heart. “ God, give me one more opportunity, please!” He wasn’t certain God even heard his prayers as he pled for her life.
Racing to the closest taxi stop, he hailed a driver to pull over. The expression on his face told the driver he was desperate. “Hop in son, where might I take you?” asked the driver. “Municipal Hospital please, and hurry!” was his frantic reply.
Municipal hospital was the closest hospital in town, and he knew they took in patients who could not pay. Frequently, the doctors and nurses created a fund for the poor. When they had nonpaying patients, the bill was paid with the fund. If there wasn’t enough, the debt was canceled. For years, the hospital had asked for donations from Frank, but he hedged from their pleas each time.
After knocking over a volunteer’s cart, and nearly running over a nurse, Frank finally made it to the emergency room desk to inquire about Bag Lady. When the attendants asked for a name, he suddenly realized he didn’t know her name. Frustrated, they informed him if he didn’t know her name, they couldn’t help him; and they only gave out information to family.” But you don’t understand,” he implored. “Sorry Sir.” The attendant interrupted.
Code Blue, Code Blue, nurses, attendants and a doctor scrambled through emergency doors, orders passing from doctor to nurses and then, silence. Was it minutes, hours? Time stood still.
Over an intercom, in the distance, a voice paged Frank Simmons. “I’m Frank Simmons,” he replied to a nurse at the desk. The ashen-faced nurse explained to him, “We have something for you.” “ Mrs. Simmons asked the ambulance attendant to see that you got this if anything happened to her.” Handing the brown folder to Frank, she walked away. “Mrs. Simmons?” Frank thought he must have heard wrong. Wearily, he made his way home.
Exhausted, Frank slumped into his recliner near the fireplace, he opened the folder the nurse had given to him at the hospital. Carefully, he slipped the paper from the file to read. Remembering the paper in his coat pocket he pulled it out to compare with the ones he received at the hospital.
Jolted awake by a sudden clap of thunder, Frank jumped from his bed. He took no time for house shoes. "It was all just a dream!" He shouted. Yes, yes, he had time… time to find the bag lady. Time to finally do what he knew he should have done a long time ago. “I have to hurry,” he yelled to no one in particular, “Before it’s too late.” dressing quickly, he raced to the door and down the street.
Approaching the stairwell, he saw her curled in the blanket shivering. Tightly gripped in her hand was the gold colored pen. “Lady, please come with me,” Frank spoke gently. Drowsily she looked into his face. “Where are we going?” she asked. “ Home,” Frank replied. “ “We’re going home.”
Sarah Simmons shared her first cup of hot coffee in years with her nephew. “So, how did you know who I was?” she asked. Frank thought of the paper he had picked up to throw in the trash days before. After reading the page, he felt compelled to place it in his coat pocket. The memory of her written words stirred his heart during those restless nights.
Frank explained that he had read her writings on a piece of paper he found on the street. The years had changed Sarah, but he recognized her through the story she had written. His mother spoke often of a sister they had not seen since he was a young boy. He vaguely remembered her.
As the years passed, Frank grew bitter. His inability to forgive hardened his heart, due to his mother’s pain. How she yearned to find her sister.
Sarah left an abusive marriage, but she also left a son with her sister. She knew he would be loved and cared for, so she gave him up with the hope that someday they would be reunited.
Dropping to his knees, Frank placed his head in his mother’s lap. "Please forgive me." Frank wept. Stroking his head she spoke softly to him. "I love you Son." " Love forgives." Frank was finally able to release all the bitterness and anger he held within for so long. Sarah had finally made it home.
© 2005 Marie Williams