By Kaylin Darling
The girl. On the bus. In the early morning.
It’s cold here now, like the kind of cold that can hurt or even kill you if given the time and opportunity. And there she is, trying to get on the bus at 6 a.m. without shoes, without a winter coat, without much at all, really. She’s clutching the sum of her possessions in a plastic bag from the hospital. She’s trying to keep a thin fleece blanket wrapped around her. She’s trying.
The bus driver waves her on.
He’s used to the indigent population in our city. They just want to ride around and get warm for a couple stops. “Just sit down.” He gives her mercy. Or is it pity?
We’re getting off the bus and I send up a prayer to the universe…take care of her. This girl. She’s trying.
A few hours later, sitting at the coffee shop of the day, fate brings our paths to cross once again. She’s shivering now. Still trying to cover too much exposure with too little blanket. She’s almost in tears. She’s still trying. Just looking for warmth. For something, clearly.
“I’m sorry, miss, you can’t be in here without shoes on.” The barista looks like she’s going to join in crying. “I wouldn’t mind, but it’s a health code violation and we can get shut down if you’re here without shoes.”
“What about socks. I have socks.”
“No, I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. They have to be shoes.”
“But I don’t have shoes.”
It’s clear things aren’t going well. Life is a struggle. Just staying warm is a struggle. She’s not asking for much, just a place to sit and stay out of the way. She promises not to cause trouble, but good behavior is not the same as a pair of shoes and the barista persists, reluctantly.
The coffee shop is a popular hub on campus, a good study spot and located for the quick grab-and-go crowd, too. I walk over just as two other girls do the same, we’ve got her surrounded. I’m clearly the oldest and I take the lead… “Hon, do you have shoes?”
“Okay. Come with me. Let’s go get you something for those feet at the store.”
Another girl chimes in, “What can I get you for when you come back?”
“Oh, nothing. I just want to warm up. I just need to sit down for a bit but they won’t let me stay without shoes.”
“Please, let me at least buy you a coffee… it’s a dollar. I want to.”
“Ok, just a coffee though.” She’s already holding back the tears.
We walk across the street to the convenience store and find some shoes. Nothing fancy, nothing that would make it to the runway or even the closet of most students. But function wins over fashion this morning, and she is glowing. Her feet warm and protected, she walks steadier now. I pull the tag off and take it to the register.
“I’ll pay you back, I promise, just give me a chance and your phone number.”
“No, they’re a gift. You are worth a pair of shoes. Now let’s go get that coffee.”
We walk back to the coffee shop and find a coffee and a warm sandwich waiting for her by her things. She wipes another tear from her cheek. “I told her just a coffee,” she’s trying not to break into a thousand pieces. The barista comes back over.
“Someone else added the sandwich. And I like your shoes…they look warm. You are welcome to stay here and get warm.”
She sits quietly.
She eats alone.
I asked her if she’d like to join me at my table, talk a little while, she says I’ve done too much already.
I let her get calmed down and enjoy her coffee. I keep my eye on her.
She looks so dejected, like she has heard nothing but no for far too long. She’s clearly overwhelmed by the love she’s been shown. You couldn’t have given a rich man anything to have the kind of impact that was visible in her eyes.
She’s still trying to wrap too little blanket around too much cold. She shivers every time the door opens. She holds her coffee cup close, like it’s life itself. Like if she lets go, she’s going to just vanish completely. The door opens again, her blanket slips off her shoulder.
“Come with me. You need something warmer than that blanket.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“No really. I can afford it. Please, come with me.”
“Oh, you’ve done so much already. Really.”
“Please, I want to help you. Please, come with me.”
Reluctantly she gets up and sets her coffee cup down hesitantly.
We walk across to the school store. I know it won’t be the cheapest place to get her something warm, but I know it will be quality and it will actually make a difference when the wind blows in that bitter way that it has of doing. We find what we’re looking for easily and she asks if she can wear it out of the store.
“Of course! It’s yours now!” the clerk responds. It looks really nice on you. It looks warm.
“Oh, it’s wonderful!” She’s crying again.
She reaches out and hugs me, immediately apologizing for being so emotional.
I reassure her, really, she is worth this. She needn’t pay me back. I just want her to survive, to get back on her feet. This girl. She’s trying.
She tells me of her husband, who thought she made a good punching bag, and her son, who still had a good heart at the age of 15 on the wrong side of town in the south as a black man. She tells me of getting kicked out of family houses because she couldn’t find a job fast enough and wanting to do something that helps people. She tells me about her fear of dogs and cats and all things furry and four-legged and jokes that maybe a snake would be a good pet if they didn’t scare her too. She tells me about the hardship of people lying about her and how she is trying to get back into the shelter later today, how she has her bus money saved up and now she knows that she has a better chance because she will be able to be in a good mood, it’s going to be a good day.
We get her another coffee, much to her chagrin and again she holds it like it’s a blessing straight from the divine. I help her make some backup plans just in case the meeting today doesn’t go like she hoped and told her I hope she gets to stay somewhere warm tonight.
Dear universe, help her.
Bio: Hello, I’m Kaylin. I’m a medical student by day and a writer (a.k.a. “superhero”) any time I can be. I’ve been writing in various forms since I can remember and have a book I “self-published” in kindergarten with crayons and a wall-paper cover. It was about a Jeep. I have two very spoiled dogs and one semi-spoiled best friend, all of whom live with me and keep me somewhat sane. When I’m not writing or studying, I’m sleeping, drinking coffee at a local coffee shop, reading, enjoying amazing vegan food, or making art. I love to connect to people, and have been known to ask random people random questions for fun. I believe in karma and the power of the mind. I’m a Scorpio and a Wild Heart Writer. If you like what I write, you can follow me in a non-creepy way on Facebook or other social media.
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