Is She Homeless or Crazy?

This morning en route to another interview (it went well, but then again I always say that, don’t I?) I clutched my dripping umbrella with the silver handles and green flowers and tried to think about good questions to ask the interviewer.

“Don’t use the word ‘growth’ when he asks you where you see yourself in five years,” my very dedicated recruiter coached last night, “use words like ‘build expertise’ and ‘take on more responsibility.'”

She had paused, “Actually, those exact words would be great.”

I looked at my reflection in the window of the 1 train, spattered with rain from stops on higher streets, and repeated, “Take on more responsibility.”

The train stopped and a small, frail-looking elderly woman in an oversized green rain jacket shuffled on. She had no umbrella and her white hair was wet and matted. She looked cold.

I turned back towards my reflection, but sensed the woman anxiously rubbing her hands – bony claws with oversized knuckles, translucent skin that was both old and soft and all too fragile so that it seemed more like a membrane stretched over bones and veins. Her eyes were wide and grey, like her hair, and there was something childlike, wondering about her expression. She had gotten on at 72nd street. I wondered where she was going.

I stopped occasionally to check my phone. I was still on time. A young, thin homeless young man with purple hair pushed through the doors at one end and came hopping down to this end.

“I’m homeless, hungry and I need some help,” he called repeatedly all the way down, “Won’t you help me out with something to eat?”

I watched him as everyone ignored him. He walked past me and then the elderly woman who remained seated, threw open the doors on the other end with frustration and disappeared into the next car. The old woman shook her hand, but kept her head bent down as though she were studying her hands. She was muttering something to herself and I wondered if she was homeless too. Her rain jacket was frayed and dirty, but her shoes were not. She wore no jewelry and had no purse, no bag, no grocery sacks. Just white socks peaking out from the green rain jacket and the scratchy neck of a sweater neckline above the collar of the rain jacket.

Did she have Alzheimers? I couldn’t tell and was wondering if she was lost. Was it rude to approach an old woman on the subway and ask if they were lost? I neared my stop but my worry for her increased – inexplicably, she reminded me of my mother, though she was two or three decades older.

Finally, at Christopher St, one station away from my stop, she got up and looked at me.

She smiled. Surprised, I smiled back. She looked at my umbrella and my still-wet boots. She shook her green rain jacket as though preparing to invite more rain and winked.

“You won’t have to take a shower tonight,” she chuckled.

I laughed, “No, I guess not.”

I had no idea if she was homeless or crazy or lost, but the doors opened and she got off, some other person’s problem.

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