I was angry at Cheryl. She took the $30 I’d given her for a cab, which would pick her up on the street corner just outside my house. There was bus stop on that corner, and she’d been waiting for a vessel, she said for “hours.” I’m cynical about that estimation because Cheryl was clearly unstable.
When I spotted her, she wore a white sundress with embroidered flowering under a fur coat whose authenticity I couldn’t tell. This clothing was dirty and Cheryl was addled by something. Her hair was in a loose bun, and her eyes drooped. She talked as if she was loosing her mind. I talked on the phone with a friend on my front porch and watched Cheryl walk around my neighborhood and end up on the sidewalk right across my front yard, swaying like an apparition. Cheryl stared as me. Her wispy hair got in her face, and eyes, not sunken like the rest of her face, pleaded for solace.
“Hang on a second,” I interrupted my friend.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” I called to Cheryl.
“Yes,” her voice shook.
I hung up on my friend and walked to Cheryl.
“I’ve been waiting for the bus out here for hours, and it hasn’t come,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
I told her I didn’t know anything about the bus schedule on Fridays.
“Can you give me ride?”
I’d been drinking a little, and I told her no.
“You shouldn’t drink,” she said.
“I do this sometimes on Friday afternoons.”
Air. She look at me with dead lowbeams. I tried to ascribe her human qualities, and all I could produce were those of the addict. The skin surrounding her eyes was weathered paper. No blood vessels in the whites, only an ambient pink that darkened as it approached the lids and dry corners. Her arms swayed delicately at her sides, like she was avoiding to disturb some beast inside.
“Here’s what I gotta say,” I said. “I’ll give you some cash and will call you a cab. Follow me out to the corner here.”
“Okay.” she trembled.
“What’s your name, ma’am?”
I dialed a cab and asked the cost of her trip. The proprietor told me a driver would be here shortly.
I told her to wait, went inside, retrieved the $30 she’d need and brought it to her.
“You don’t have to give me money,” she labored.
“Just take it, the cab will be here in 15 minutes.”
“Right here?” she quivered, standing next to bus post like a ghost.
“Right here,” I confirmed, “can you do that?”
“I hope I can make it the whole ride to my apartment without wetting the carseat.”
“You wanna use my bathroom before the cab gets here?”
“No, I can manage.”
“Are you sure?”
I walked back to my porch and returned to the horn with my friend. I checked the corner from the vantage of my porch every minute for five minutes, and Cheryl sat put. I turned my back and watered the flowers. This took about two minutes. I turned back again and Cheryl was nowhere to be seen.
The cab pulled up, earlier than expected and made a swoop through the neighborhood. I told my friend I had to talk to the driver and hung up. I approached and asked the driver, “Are you here for Cheryl?”
“I think so,” she said.
I told her the situation and offered to pay her for her wasted time. She pleasantly understood, said payment wasn’t necessary and drove away.
I called my friend back. Five more minutes.
On November 9, I couldn’t feel my face. It was 3 a.m. and I saw the headline in the New York Times announcing the election results. I told myself I had to do something. I had a bunch of ideas to counteract what was happening in the world in the following days, but none of them seemed right.
So I started giving money to homeless people.
I had given a couple beers to a guy who was asking for change on a sidewalk in Austin the prior February, but other than that I’d usually opined that people who wanted to help those in need should contribute to humanitarian institutions (after researching them, of course). I haven’t lost that conviction. People should donate to humanitarian institutions. But something changed November 9. I stopped caring what homeless people would use the money for. I started giving $20 bills to dirty people with signs about how anything-helps and having a family-but-no-food who frequent the corner of my local grocer. I’m not sure if it made them feel human. I’m not sure what the money went to. Maybe some went to hard drugs; Bremerton is home to one of America’s many heroin nests. I do know that I once asked a regular if he wanted a beer because I had no cash on me, and he turned it down.
Perhaps it made them feel human. It absolutely made me feel human.
Cheryl floated back up to my sidewalk. I hung up again on my friend.
“Where’d you go?” I accused Cheryl.
“I got antsy feet,” she matter-of-factly explained.
“Well, the cab came and went.”
“Maybe you could call me another one? I still have the money you gave me.”
“I’m not calling you another cab, Cheryl; they’ll think I’m pulling their chain.”
“Okay, we’ll here’s your money back,” she said, digging into her periwinkle, moth-eaten wallet. She hung her head.
“I don’t want the money back. Here’s what you’re gonna do.”
I gave her directions to the grocer and told her to talk to customer service. They’d call her a cab. She agreed and shuffled back the way she had come.
I got back on the horn with my friend, told her I worried Cheryl would let her comrades know there’s a dude at my address who will give them $30 for a cab if they show up and look pitiful enough.
It’s been about a week. I haven’t seen Cheryl. Or any of her friends.