The Bag Lady

She used to sleep in the Fifth Street Post Office. I could smell her before
I rounded the entrance to where she slept, standing up, by the public
phones. I smelled the urine that seeped through the layers of her dirty
clothing and the decay from her nearly toothless mouth. If she was not
asleep, she mumbled incoherently.
Now they close the post office at six to keep the homeless out, so she
curls up on the sidewalk, talking to herself, her mouth flapping open as
though unhinged, her smells diminished by the soft breeze.
One Thanksgiving we had so much food left over, I packed it up,
excused myself from the others and drove over to Fifth Street.
It was a frigid night. Leaves were swirling around the streets and hardly
anyone was out, all but a few of the luckless in some warm home or
shelter. But I knew I would find her.
She was dressed as she always was, even in summer: The warm woolly
layers concealing her old, bent body. Her bony hands clutched the
precious shopping cart. She was squatting against a wire fence in front
of the playground next to the post office. “Why didn’t she choose
some place more protected from the wind?” I thought, and assumed she
was so crazy she did not have the sense to huddle in a doorway.
I pulled my shiny car to the curb, rolled down the window and said,
“Mother . . . would you …” and was shocked at the word “Mother.” But
she was … is … in some way I cannot grasp.
I said, again, “Mother, I’ve brought you some food. Would you like
some turkey and stuffing and apple pie?”
At this the old woman looked at me and said quite clearly and distinctly,
her two loose lower teeth wobbling as she spoke, “Oh, thank you very
much, but I’m quite full now. Why don’t you take it to someone who
really needs it?” Her words were clear, her manners gracious. Then I
was dismissed: Her head sank into her rags again.
Bobbie Probstein

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