Thursday, March 5, 2015


Dave sat at the light, corner of State and Southeastern, and watched three guys loitering on the stoop of a building with “The Puff n Chew” painted in crooked letters on its cinder block wall. Dave checked his door locks.

He looked in his rearview at the old woman he’d passed a block back. The sidewalks were piled deep with snow and she walked in the street. “Walked” might be an overstatement. Her legs seemed not to know each other. Take one step with the left leg. Then a pause and the right leg took a turn. Left. Right. Left. She stopped, took a little rest, and took a few more steps. She wasn’t gaining much ground.

Dave checked the outside temperature. Twenty degrees out there and the sun was low and red in the afternoon sky. He looked to the mirror again. The old woman was still a half block back, moving slowly. Her head was covered with a scarf and on top of that, a sweatshirt hoodie.

Even from here, Dave could see her fleece jacket over dark blue sweatpants that were stuffed into the tops of white gym socks. She wore battered tennis shoes that looked too big for her feet. Velcro straps, no laces. She carried a plastic grocery sack and a canvas tote. The bags looked full and heavy.

Dave listed in his mind the reasons to drive on. The stoplight was still red, should be turning green any second now. Looking over his shoulder, he expected to see cars coming up from behind. It was rush hour, after all. But as far back as he could see, a half mile or so, State Street was deserted. No traffic at all.

The stoplight turned green. Dave’s foot stayed on the brake. He sat there, looking at the deserted road behind him, deserted by all but a little babushka in oversized shoes, in the cold and walking in the street. The stoplight was still green. Dave sighed, lowered his passenger window and put the truck in reverse.

“It’s kinda cold out there,” he said through the window. “Can I offer you a lift?”

“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” she said, and climbed slowly into Dave’s truck, as if it hurt to move. “I been walking for a long time and it’s cold out there. Let me put this seatbelt on. I don’t want you to get arrested.”

Dave gave her time to hook up and checked his rearview again. Still no cars. When she got her seatbelt snapped, Dave pulled out through the light. The vagrants at The Puff n Chew seemed to have moved on. He drove north on State toward Washington.

He looked at her while trying not to be seen looking. Her face was furrowed and weathered, her cheeks ruddy with the cold, her large nose webbed with thin red veins. She wore thick-rimmed glasses and her eyebrows appeared to be drawn with some kind of makeup pencil. As far as he could tell, she had no teeth.

“I’m Dave,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“You never know when you’re going to run into an angel,” she said.

Dave took his eyes off the road long enough to glance at her in the passenger seat. Her eyes held straight ahead as she fiddled with her bags. She must be thanking him for the ride, didn’t hear his offer to exchange names. He let it go.

“What is your work?” she asked, glancing around his truck.

“Downtown,” Dave said. “I work with people who make medicine for people with cancer.”

“I know. God blesses you for that,” she said, looking straight ahead. The streets remained empty.

“So, where you coming from?” Dave asked, trying to keep a conversation going. “It’s kind of cold to be walking in the street.”

“It’s not where I’m coming from,” she said. "It’s where I’m going.”

“Okay,” Dave said. “Where are we going?”

She gave him directions. Turn right on Washington. Go just past the railroad overpass, then a left on Gale.

“Are you going home?” he asked.

“Oh, no. I’m going to a friend’s house. I’m going to pray with him. Then I’m going back to where I came from.”

“Are you walking? It’s going to be dark soon.”

“I don’t mind,” she said. “It’s good exercise.” Her Velcro-strapped shoes looked worn. “But I’ll take the bus. I have a dollar. I’ll be fine. I pray for other people, but God always seems to take care of me first. Here! Turn here, right after the overpass.”

They drove down Gale, the road pocked and cratered by a hard winter.

“Keep going. Past this house,” she said. “A little farther. A little farther. Good. Here is fine.”

Dave looked around. “By this alley? You want me to drop you here?”

“This is where I need to go,” she said.

Dave reached into the console. “Listen, I know you said you've got your bus ride covered.” He pulled out a ten and said, “Would you let me give you something to help with the trip?”

The babushka took the ten and stuffed it in her pocket. “God blesses you,” she said, and opened the passenger door.

“My name is Dave,” he tried again. “And yours?”

She stopped and this time looked at him full in the face. “I told you you never know when you’re going to meet an angel.” Dave was starting to think she wasn’t thanking him for a ride.

She climbed out and turned to face him. Her eyes were owl-like behind the thick lenses. Her face spread into a toothless grin.

“You’re not going to forget me,” she said, and closed the door on his truck.

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