Last Friday, as he drove up to Light #8 of the 15 traffic lights on his commute, he noticed a small figure on the median holding a cardboard sign asking for change. This person was a young woman, petite, bundled up like she was at a school bus stop, likely early 20s, though the stress and cold had aged her a little bit. “Oh, that is dangerous”, he thought. A young person, especially a woman, out on the streets is a vulnerable target for a myriad of urban predators, both natural and human. As he turned at the light to go home, he wondered, “I wonder if her family was evicted like when I was a kid”. He then thought, “F***ing idiot; why didn’t you stop!”
The following Monday, she was out at the same traffic light with her sign. The light was green this time, so he quickly turned, and it didn’t dawn on him to stop. He was glad the Urban Beasts didn’t get her. He then thought, “I wonder if her mom tried to off herself, like when I was a kid.” He then thought, “You MORON! you could have totally stopped!”
On Tuesday she was still there. He expected that she would now part of the scenery of his routine commute. At Light #8, the young woman with a cardboard sign will be peddling for cash. He would wonder something, “I wonder if she’s couch surfing”, or “I wonder if she’s pondered ending it all yet”, you know, like when he was a kid. He’d then chastise himself for not stopping. Until finally he did.
On Wednesday, he saw her, doing the “I’m really cold” dance that everyone who has ever taken public transportation in the dead of winter knows. Her face was deep red from being outside for so long. The wind was so strong that it hurt one’s face. Imagine being beaten up by a yeti with ice gloves. It was worse than that. He whizzed by her, and did his daily wondering, “I wondered if she’s hungry”. He then turned right at Light #9 instead of going straight, pulled into the first place he found that sold hot food, and ordered a feast for two. He then drove back up to Light #8 and found parking and handed the woman the food and FINALLY asked her something instead of wondering and guilt-tripping:
“Here’s some food, and this is the last of my money on-hand. I don’t expect you to go jumping into a complete stranger’s car, but if you need to get somewhere, I can take you. I know a few warm places in the city.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m fine. I’m staying with a friend who gets off work in an hour.”
“...Ok. Well take care, then. and be careful. What’s your name by the way?”
“It’s Abilene. Thank you for the food!”
No one can blame a young woman in a very vulnerable situation for not trusting a large man who offers her a ride. He just hoped Abilene’s eyes were flitting around for another reason as she spoke, and not because she was trying to concoct an answer, like he used to do when he was a kid. The sub-zero wind chill may be more appealing than the threat of being abducted. She was smart. Still...sub-zero wind chills can be result in the same morbid outcome. So on Wednesday, he finally learned something: Abilene was wearing an emotional mask, she was a very proud person, and she may not have trust in many people. Just like he was when he was a kid. The only difference is that it was never deathly cold when he was out on the street.
On Thursday, she wasn’t there. There was a piece of cardboard floating around the intersection, but it didn’t have any writing on it. It definitely wasn’t the sign that she had carried, but it looked as if Abilene at Light #8 erased all traces of her existence. As he turned and drove toward Light #9, he hoped that Abilene just moved to another block for the day or that she went somewhere warm that he suggested. He REALLY hoped the Urban Beasts hadn’t taken her. Never before has he actually wanted to see someone outside in the cold like he did Abilene at Light #8.