i see her from afar at first; she is in the parking lot of the amoco at the intersection of maple and telegraph. the big streetlights are shining down on her, not even casting light on any other thing in sight. she holds on her shoulder a bag, made of cheap and fake leather, and struggles to make her way across the lot. i approach the gas station on my right in my car. the hot air is coming out of the floor vents and face vents, and i, from the comfort of the car, see her shiver and readjust her hood.
i pull into the parking lot across the street from the amoco she's leaving; she heads across maple in my path. i try to avoid staring, but can't help it as i try to figure out if she's homeless. i carefully and slowly climb out of my mercury mountaineer, clicking the automatic lock button twice. the horn sounds once loudly, breaking the silence, alerting me i've armed my car. she is now travelling down the sidewalk, and i hear her talk. she's about fifty feet away, but her voice sounds and echoes against the brick walls of the strip of stores before us. she is babbling, rambling, words spin out of her mouth: nothing she says makes sense, and i cannot even comprehend a word. she continues to talk and clutch her bag as she treks down the walk.
just as i approach the double doors of the store i'm about to enter, she stops walking and talking. she and i are the only ones around; i'm aware of our existence, and wonder if she is too. my warm hand trembles at the touch of the cold, expensive-looking brass door handle, but i rest it there for a moment before entering. we lock eyes and hold a gaze for a long moment; maybe a mere second, but that second seems to stretch on and on, forever.
i feel a sense of responsibility for that woman at that very moment. though i've never met her, i feel a sense of duty towards her. i naively wonder what her story is. what is she doing roaming down telegraph, with a dirty purse on her shoulder? what could possibly fill that bag? doesn't she have a family to go to, to support her? what'll happen when i break the trance we seem to be in?
a sudden gust of winter wind overcomes me and i am suddenly brought back to reality. she adjusts the hood of her dirty coat once more and starts walking. all i can think of is to offer her a smile, a hopeful offering of peace. she smiles a half-smile back, sort of a remorseful acknowledgement of her situation. her eyes warm up and for a moment, she is free. i stand still as she slowly trudges by me. my head stays cocked to where she stood a few seconds ago. she has already walked off of the sidewalk of the small stripmall and is making her way into the snowy parking lot of J & J Associates law firm next door. i finally walk into the bookstore, and the warm air fills me with a false sense of security.