Day After Christmas

I’m riding on the #30 bus going up Wisconsin Avenue, when we stop and she gets on. She is homeless. Her skin is a mixture of dirt and a strange orange color. Her matted hair is sticking straight up. She is assertive, but not aggressive. She clearly states she has no money, and would the driver let her on for free? He does, and I breathe a tiny sigh of relief. I’ve seen bus drivers in this city drive past people at the bus stop if they look homeless. The people who carry bags of who knows what and look like they will make their bus smell bad.

My daughter whispers she has seen this woman on several different buses. And every bus driver has let her on.

She asks, and she receives, I think to myself.

We ride a few blocks more, and I see her reach for the bell. We get off at the same stop. I’m curious to see where she goes. I want to see what she buys. Or if she will be able to buy anything at all. I ask my daughter if she minds if we follow her for a minute. “Of course not,” she says. She knows I worry.

We find her in the CVS with a can of Pringles and a bottle of Coke. She is at the register asking for a certain cashier. “He helps me,” she tries to explain to a very young man who is kind, but has no idea what to do. He tells her that particular cashier is off today. Her voice is desperate, and she is near tears. “I could pay you next week,” she says.

Her person isn’t there today. But another person steps in. Discreetly gives the confused cashier a five dollar bill and nods toward her. He understands.

“Oh, here’s your money!” He says it in a loud, theatrical voice. After all, he is following a script that was just handed to him seconds before.

We walk out, and a few minutes later we see her on the bench outside the CVS with her Pringles and Coke. My eyesight is not as sharp as my daughter’s, so I ask her if she’s sure she has both things she wanted. She assures me she has both items.

I can’t stop thinking about her as I walk the rest of the way home. She has nothing, but she finds people to help her. Drivers who will let her ride the bus for free. A cashier at CVS who will help her get her afternoon snacks.

And random people who step in to help when her regular people are not there.

It makes me think of Mr. Rogers’ quote, “Look for the helpers.”

Apparently on this cold, grey, day after Christmas, they are all around.