She sat on the sidewalk. Silent. A simple cardboard sign laid at her feet read “Hungry. Need help please.” As we waited to cross the street, I knelt down next to her.
“Have you eaten today?” I asked.
She was shy and wouldn’t make eye contact. With what seemed like shame in her voice she replied “I have. Thank you.”
I then asked if she knew where she would be getting dinner.
“No. I don’t. But it’s ok”. Still not making eye contact and shifting ever so slightly away from me.
“May I buy you dinner?”
It was roughly 2:30 in the hot afternoon.
“Thank you, but it would be difficult to carry it and keep it good until dinner time. Thank you though”
“I meant- would it be ok for me to give you money now so you can buy dinner when you’re hungry?”
She turned her head towards me, looking me in the eyes for the first time. She was pretty, with distrust sketched upon her face.
“Yes? I think I would love that” she replied, looking surprised and a bit skeptical.
As I dug out my wallet she told me she was heading home this week. A social services agency had helped her buy a bus ticket.
“Where’s home?” I asked as I retrieved a 20 dollar bill from my wallet.
“Missouri,” the first smile appeared on her face. “I just really want to go home.”
I gave her the 20 and she smiled, looked at me and squinted a bit. “I really like you’re hair.”
I smiled and said “thank you”
“You look like one of those kool-aid girls with the purple hair. It’s so pretty,” she continued.
I laughed. “Thanks! I will take that as a compliment. ”
“Oh it is!” She said enthusiastically.
I held out my hand “I’m Jeniffer”
She shook my hand “I’m Nicole”
We chatted for a few minutes, about the weather, my striped socks, New York… about anything and nothing at all.
As I was preparing to leave, we just smiled at one another. “Good luck getting home, Nicole”
“Thank you.” She then looked at me with earnest. “I really am going home.”
“I’m happy for you.” I replied. And I was. Genuinely. “Enjoy your dinner. Or whatever it is you choose to spend your money on. It’s yours”
She looked at me, looked at the money she had hidden in her hand, nestled under her arm. “Thank you. And bless you. Thank you so much.”
I stood up and headed towards the crosswalk where my friend was waiting. I turned back to smile and wave, and she was already waving and already smiling.
I would like to think it wasn’t the money she was thanking me for, or for the smile on her face. It was the moment of human connection. It was why I was smiling.
-Journal Entry, Monday May 30, 2016 New York City