Gentle Reader, taking the early morning trek to my mother’s this morning, I was reminded of something that happened this fall. Now, you must understand that to get to my mother’s, as a non-driver, that I have to ride in with my roommate, P., when she goes to work. She leaves the farm at five a.m.: if I want a shower, I need to be up by three-thirty, and if not, by four. Even when my work hours were similar, I never could sleep before midnight. This poses a problem that is most easily solved by not sleeping when I go down to Maman’s, despite the combination of grogginess and crankiness that results.
After being deposited at the bussery, I wait. If I’m lucky enough to be traveling on a weekday, the wait is negligible – a mere five minutes or so. If on a weekend – say, a Sunday – as is my usual wont, the wait is an hour and a half. It was on one such Sunday, in fact – a foggy, bucketing-down, inhospitably bleary Autumn day – that I saw a person of indeterminate gender in a flowing white cape.
They were wandering about the parking lot by the bussery, scavenging cigarette butts. Being in reduced circumstances myself, I had only brought a couple smokes with me – not enough to last me the entire trip to Ma’s (After the hour and a half wait, there’s fourty-five minutes aboard the bus, and then another hour wait, and then another hour ride – it takes less time to fly from Seattle to Los Angeles than to travel by bus from the farm to my mother’s). I had just one cigarette left. As the person got closer, I noticed the newspaper hat, doing nothing to keep out the rain, and the tattered, muddy edge of what had appeared to be a pristine white cloak, but was in fact a ragged blanket.
When I say that I’m in reduced circumstances, frequently I mean that I’m only moments away from having to live like that, myself. I’m very lucky to not have to. Luck, wit, and I daresay my excellent friends and family have kept me from such a turn, but I absolutely sympathize.
I gave the old woman – for such she turned out to be – my last cigarette. I had nothing else to give her. I couldn’t replace her teeth or her mental health. I had no money to give her – I was paying my bus fare in exact change, and that was all that I had. I had no warmer clothes with me, to give her, or information on work or a place to sleep. All I had was that cigarette.
She needed it more than I did.
As she wandered off into into the dark, fog crystallizing on her cape, I wondered what had happened – how she had ended up in such circumstances. Many people I know – good people; hard-working people – are only a few checks from ending up like this: savings meager, as there’s never enough left to put away.
How far is the wolf from your own door?