Maybe I should’ve worn the old sneakers and left my backpack at home, I told myself. I probably should have foregone the Holy Cross t-shirt for something a little bit less conspicuous—my purple top and white Nike shorts didn’t exactly allow me to blend in with the people on Richards Street. I should’ve had a cigarette between my teeth or behind my ear. Yes, that was it. Tobacco: the great equalizer. Who didn’t smoke on their porch after dinner? Before dinner? At 7:00 AM? Everybody did on Richards.
I wanted to blend in, to disappear into the scenery around me. I wanted to be a part of the rented-out, low-income, multi-storied clapboard houses that lined the cracked and glass-riddled asphalt outside. Perhaps if I looked like I belonged, the fat woman next door would not have approached me to begin with.
“Miss?” I kept walking. “Excuse me, miss?” The woman addressed me in a soft and breathy voice that escaped from a throat encased in a large double chin. A cigarette dangled from her first two fingers as she gazed over from her front porch to my side porch, where I was just leaving for a run. I answered. “Yeah?”
“Can you please spare a dollar? I’m very hungry.” Sure enough, I had $12 in my backpack that day. The woman stayed on her porch.
The second time was a little bit different.
I trudged up the 45-degree hill that defined my half of Richards. “Miss?” The woman, whose fat rolls were visible through her salmon-pink t-shirt, and who didn’t have a cigarette this time, got up and moved—towards me. I was across the street and I glanced over, without saying a word.
“Miss! I need a dollar twenty-five for food.” She closed in, waddling a little more quickly than I thought a woman her size could have managed, and I kept my distance as I quickened my pace. I closed in on my front porch. She had upped the amount this time, and was a little less pleading, a little more demanding. Sure enough, I had $12 in my backpack.
I blamed my reluctance on the sirens in the distance. And the neon orange condom that was plastered to the sidewalk in front of the abandoned house I had just passed. Orange flavored? Maybe mango—Worcester had a significant Spanish population. Was it the broken glass scattered on almost every length of cracked, hilly, and weed-ridden asphalt sidewalk?
I tried to tell myself that somehow the fat woman’s backdrop tainted her and her motives, made the slow way she waddled up to me aggressive, and made her soft, breathy voice threatening. I tried to make myself believe that it was not my own judgment that had denied the hungry.
Maybe my other next-door neighbors, the ones that made unbelievable noise at 9:30 in the morning, influenced my view of the pleading woman. Every morning I undressed, showered, and re-dressed to the symphony of indistinct Spanish words. Screams. English swear words. All at one volume: earsplitting.
Was it her cigarette? Surely if the fat woman next door could afford a cigarette she could scrape up something to eat.
As I tied my second shoe, ready for the day, I gave up the question.
I walked out of my room with $12 in my backpack, and prayed that she would not ask me again.