Wednesday, May 18, 2005


A 7-day series of essays by Zinta Aistars

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
--Maya Angelou

I look over my shoulder to see what has happened to Paula. We're walking back across town after lunch--she to the newspaper offices where she works as a reporter, and I to my car, to drive back to the college where I work in communications--but then I glance over and Paula is gone.

There, she's just a few steps behind me. Stopped and listening attentively to another woman who has suddenly appeared from around the corner of the building. I hear something about money.

"…need a few dollars… just maybe $3.75?… left mine behind… too many blocks away. If I go back for it… be late for work. Please?"

I go back and stand to one side of Paula to listen. Hard to tell… homeless? Seems not. Something like a blue hospital gown over a flowered dress. She's large and heavy, her expression a bit simple, or perhaps it is just that she is flustered. There is a hospital a couple blocks from here, perhaps this woman is an orderly there. A nurse? Somehow I don't think so. Her plea for money seems a little too practiced, a little too desperate, her voice a little too like keening.

"You look like a nice woman," she says to Paula. "Maybe you can help? Please?"

Flattery, I sneer, always a nice opener. I'm glad I don't look like a nice woman, I think, and watch with some curiosity to see how Paula will handle this. Paula says nothing. She's a reporter; she knows how to listen. She's a reporter, she's sharp and perceptive; she'll know when she's about to be had. The large woman's voice pitches upward with her plea. She waves an arm in some vague distance towards the other end of the mall, then brings it back into a fist that she pounds against her heart. Where she lives? On the north side? Not the best side of town.

Paula is a petite woman, and yes, I too can see it in her pretty face, even though her smile is rare and given only with good reason--there is a quiet kindness in her dark eyes. She is looking up at the other, unsmiling, attentive, waiting for the woman to finish her story.

There is a moment of silence. Then Paula reaches into her bag and pulls out a folded bill. She presses it into the other woman's hand, whose eyes grow suddenly large, too large, and the woman stares at the bill, far more than she had asked, gapes back at Paula, who is already walking away.

"But… but," the woman takes two hurried steps after her. "I will give this back to you! Where will I find you? Your name? You will need change for this!" she waves the bill in the air, and for a moment it seems she may cry.

Paula holds up a hand and waves away the offer. We resume our walk.

I want to ask: did you really think her worthy, Paula? You don't think that was just a cheap line? You're a reporter, you know a line when you hear one…

But, instead, I merely say, "Now where were we.."

"I was just going to say," she offers, "what an incredible day it is today. Don't you think? Look at that sky. Look at it. Not one cloud."

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