Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hopeless or Helpless: Poverty and Hunger

She sits under the stairs, against the building, scrunched as far away back from the sidewalk as she can get. Dark brown hair that could be pretty, green eyes that could sparkle, probably an English complexion underneath that sad, dry face. Twenty-five, 18, who knows. She looks 50. The filthy clothes are a dead give away she's been like this for awhile.

"What would you like?" Christine asked her. "A burger with everything from In n Out? Fries and a shake?" 

"That's a stupid question," Christine's friend said in her ear. "Just get her some food, anything."

"I need money," the girl grunted. "You've got some." She stared at the sidewalk, clasped her hands so tightly together that dirty nails must have been piercing her palms. "Leave me alone," she said. Squatting further back into the corner of the stairs and wall, it became evident she wore no panties.  

"OMG," Christine's friend said. "We'll be late for yoga class. Let's go." She grabbed Christine by the arm and hauled her up the stairs. "Don't look down, we'll bring food later," she said.

"There's time before class starts," Christine said. 

In n Out wasn't open, but in the same mall a coffee shop was. Christine picked out an apple fritter, container of whole milk, banana, and huge blueberry muffin.  Packed in a clean, white paper bag, the food fit perfectly in Christine's Coach tote bag along with her jeans, tee shirt and sandals for later in the day.

The girl had moved around the corner from the stairs and faced the back of the parking lot when Christine arrived. "Eat this. You'll feel better," Christine said, pulling the bag from her tote and holding it out to her. "Please, take it. I eat a banana every day."

"NO," the girl replied. Her teeth chattered, her body began to shake, her eyes sunk deep into their sockets, and she slumped sideways. 

Christine sat the white bag beside the girl. Then she wrote on the side of the white bag: "If you will go upstairs to the yoga studio, the owner will give you a coupon for the In n Out burger."

Late for class, Christine tossed her mat in the only available space, tightly scrunched beside the wall. It was claustrophobic, but as the meditation came to an end, she thought of the girl. 

And hour and a half later when class was over, Christine skipped down the same stairs with her friend. They looked all around the building but the girl and the white paper bag were gone. Christine shoved the Coach tote bag in the trunk with her yoga mat. 'I'm going home," she said to her friend. "What do you do for someone like that except give them some food?" 

And that's the truth. To some extent.

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