I stopped at 7-11 on my way home tonight, to buy myself a cocktail in a can, as I do sometimes. As I walked out the door I was approached by a young woman.
“Excuse me. . . could you buy me something to eat?” she asked, as she rubbed her belly, presumably so I would notice that she was pregnant. “I don’t want any money, I’m just really hungry.” As a city dweller of 35 years my instinct is to be hard and my antennae go up. Am I being set up for a pickpocketing or a purse-snatching? Is she really pregnant? Thoughts and possible courses of action race through my head in a millisecond, then I say, “Sure.”
“Thank you so much. My baby is so mad at me right now.” My head is reeling at this, the idea of being pregnant and being so alone that you have to ask strangers for food. I know this happens every day, but it’s nothing I will ever get used to.
We go back into the store and I ask her what she wants, heading toward the deli case, thinking probably a sandwich or something, but she heads toward the hot food display and my first thought is “Oh god she wants a pizza.” (like honestly would I have said no if she wanted a pizza? Of course not.) But she asked, “Could I get some taquitos?”
“Sure, of course.” They’re 3 for $3 & something, not much. She asks for four. While they’re bagging them up she asks if she can get a drink. Again I ask, “What do you want?” I’m not sure why I needed to ask, I should have just said go head, get you want you want. “Can I get a Slurpee?” I think for a second, and then say, “Sure.” Because what was I going to say? “You’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be eating this garbage?” My middle-class judgy-ness was rearing up inside me. As though I had any business telling her what to eat or not eat, like she lived in a world where that was a choice she could make.
She told me that she’d been waiting two hours for a friend to pick her up and they hadn’t shown up and she hated having to “be all hobo” and ask for food from strangers. I told her it was no problem, and felt like a giant piece of shit for holding two states of thought in my head at the same time: “I’m a sucker, I’m being played” and “Why is anyone’s life like this?” As though one can be “played” for $6 worth of junk food. I told myself to get the fuck over. I’ve wasted more money on that on stupider things just this week.
She thanked me again after we left the store, and asked me where the nearest Blue Line stop was, so I told her, and then I crossed the street and finished my journey home. Now I’m sitting here drinking my cocktail in a can and hoping she got home (or wherever she was going) okay,
I also realize that you can do a (hopefully) nice thing for someone and still feel like garbage, apparently. It’s not enough, I don’t do enough, I should have done something else for her.