She stands under the overpass of the Dallas Tollway in the same fuschia puffer jacket, grey sweat pants, and pink and grey tennis shoes. A bike occasionally accompanying her standing on the grey concrete and green grass. She stands with a slight dead look to her eyes awaiting a window to come down. I don’t normally see her standing with a cardboard sign explaining her reasons for being there. So then I wonder.
I wonder what her name is. I wonder if I saw her walking through a Walmart in that outfit would I picture that she had three little kids at home. I wonder if she would still have that dead look in her eye from a life she had never planned, picking up the stuff her kids needed. Another day in the life of an overtired mom.
I wonder who her people are? Are they all gone, does anyone still mutter her name. Her childhood friends, parents, sister. I imagine she must have had a life before standing under the overpass. And I want to imagine the whole thing. Then I feel gulity
I feel guilty that I have never offered her food. That I have never given her a smile. I feel guilty that I watch her like a zoo animal comfortably through the window and locked doors of my temperature controlled car.
Then like that the light turns green, the cars in front of me move and I forget all about her.
I must have been about twelve or thirteen when my parents first took me to Memphis. It was Saint Patrick’s day and Beale Street was filled to the brim with people. Two things happened that night I went into my first bar, the kind where they serve alcohol only. But that’s a story for another night.
The second important thing that stuck in my head was a homeless man I encountered.
For some reason that night I had about sixty cents in my pocket. I felt like I could buy anything with it. Walking next to my dad I had my hands in my pocket to keep the brisk air off them and was playing with the coins when I saw the homeless man. He was sitting on the ground outside a bar with a paperwhite cup in his rough hand. He looked worn out, he needed a shower and his coat was a different shade of brown then it probably had been when he got it.
My dad looked at me and said you should give those coins to that man. At first, I thought no this is my money. But then I remember my dad had money and he could buy me things. And if my dad said the man needed the money then he was probably right. So I dropped it in his cup and walked on. And didn’t think much about what happened to him after that night.
I have a feeling he is no longer on this earth now. I think because of that man and the encounter whenever I have coins I feel like donating it, come Christmas time I look for the Salvation Army’s red tin so I can drop what coins I have in.
Growing up in a third world country meant I saw homeless people. At first, I would wonder why people with missing legs, sometimes they would have all their limbs, would be sitting on the ground holding their hands up to me. Maybe they wanted water, or a high five. But something in their eyes told me that wasn’t the answer.
Their eyes told me a different story. They needed your help. I was young and definitely afraid of what those eyes meant. Now I know it to be called the look of desperation.
I recently went back this summer and I remember one man in particular. He was sitting outside of Odel’s on a faded ketchup red wheeled cart. The kind that sits low to the ground with a flat surface. It reminded me of something you would use to push something heavy around on.
The man sitting on the faded ketchup red wheeled cart was missing both his legs. Pretty much up to his torso. He had about three good teeth, a handful of other okay ones, with the rest missing. His hands wrinkled from the test of time, and his eyes so far away piercing directly into mine.
The men trying to haggle me for a trishaw ride faded away. The busy street was all but silent and he looked at me with one outstretched hand and the other he was using to wheel himself towards me.
My Uber pulled up and I got in. I sat in the car as it drove me back to the three bedroom suite with a full kitchen, living room, dining, room and a room for a servants quarter and thought why didn’t I just drop a bill in his hands. 100 Rupees wouldn’t have even been a US dollar to me. Earlier that trip we had stopped off the side of the road to eat at a restaurant that was by no means fancy. I had been able to get a whole meal for 140 Rupees.
I doubt he knew very much English and my Sinhala is very rough and quite limited but I wish I could go back and ask him who he was, how he lost his legs, get his story. I wish I could go back and ask that man on Beale Street how he ended up in downtown Memphis with a dirty coat. I wish I had rolled my window down and hand the woman in the fuschia puffer jacket some food, stopped wishing for the light to just turn green already and tell her I knew she was somebody’s daughter. Everybody has a story.
This post was inspired by a song I heard. Please feel free to check it out! Somebody’s Daughter by Tenille Townes, you can find it on Spotify or check out the linked video!