The old woman wore a weathered face tucked inside her bonnet. She stood in front of the church begging for money at an ungodly hour. Without looking up, I could feel the shadow of the steeple impress upon the sidewalks, dimly lit from the street lights a story high. Everything beyond that was cloaked in a daggered darkness that made my walk restless.
I had just come from a speakeasy whose name was nowhere near my tongue but whose image was still visible in my mind–just a blazing red light in a puddled alley. “No room, sorry. Come back in 45 minutes.” It was on our walk away that I passed by the old woman with the weathered face, eyes glinting like the puddles I had just seen. On the surface they shimmered, but when looked upon deeply, reflected nothing but the black sky above.
“Money for food. Please. Money for food,” she mumbled, fumbling a white plastic grocery bag in her hands. I’m sure if she let it go, it would’ve danced in the wind that didn’t blow. The cold just made it so.
I slowed my steps and smiled as I passed by. It wasn’t an arrogant toothy grin or a lip-curled sympathy prayer. It was perhaps the most basic human smile I have ever given, and upon doing so, immediately felt a tug that nearly pulled me backwards. In a sliding life, I imagined myself stopping to talk to this woman. I wondered what would have happened if I had actually done so, well aware that something was calling me even though my own mouth never uttered a word. I would have asked her questions, a million of them, completely throwing herself from the church stoop persona she had become rutted in. I would’ve taken her for a cup of coffee and demanded a conversation, in the all the ways that press buttons and push luck. I would have been a bonafide inspirator.
I was willing to cross those boundaries, if only in my mind. The best I could do was smile. But that is hardly an effort and I doubt it made a difference. Instead, I was a skipped stone jumping from puddle to puddle, leaving ripples in everything I barely touched.