There is a woman nearby that lives on a bench near a bus stop. What hurts is that I do not know how to get her off the bench. And if she does not get off the bench, she could die. In fact, I do not know if she will be there when I drive by and check on her today. It was 30 degrees last night when I drove up to her and called the name she gave me. “Tabatha.”` At first she did not respond. When she did speak, it was a small voice that was trying to force out a sound. She had piles of clothes around her and she was locked inside of them, like a handmade igloo.
“Tabatha, please let me call someone to come get you. There are people who would come and get you.”
Slowly she lifted her head up and said what she has been saying to me for weeks. She said it not in full sentences, like she used to , not with the smile she somehow managed. It was like a groan.
It was so cold she could barely get the word out… “hotel.”
I handed her some money. Her hand eased out of the covers and then she bowed her head, tucking herself back in her igloo. It was so very cold, I did not stay with her long.
When I reached my nice heated home, I thought about the irony of it all. I first met Tabatha, when I saw a woman under a blanket camped out on a bench in front of a grocery store.
I kept thinking she would find a place, but after weeks went by I finally tapped on the blanket and asked: “Why are you in there?’’
No answer so I would try to give her some money when I went into the store. One day I saw that the bench was gone, so I thought the woman was gone, finally in a shelter, I thought.
Tabatha dropped from my mind, until one day, I was driving down the street and across from the grocery, I saw a woman sitting on a bench. She was surrounded with suitcases and boxes around her. She was sitting with her arms crossed around her chest as if she was holding herself together. It occurred to me that although the woman at the grocery store bench never let me see her face, this might be the same woman.
‘’Did you used to lay on the bench across the street?” I asked
“That was me alright.” she replied.
I asked why she was there. She told me she was waiting for her children who were driving across the country to pick her up. That story did fly because she has been on the streets for months.
The next time I saw her she told me a different story:
“Some people from California dropped me off here.”
It was clear she had mental issues.
“Let me help get you into a shelter,” I offered.
“No they steal your stuff. Would you put me in a hotel?”
I knew I should not load her into my car because I knew she had a mental issue and I might not be able to get her out of my car. Neither could I afford a hotel for her any length of time.. So I tried to do little things. I bought her some warm clothes.
She loves Popeyes chicken, the new Classic sandwich.
“Make sure you get the mashed potatoes.”
I went away for Thanksgiving and returned hoping she wouldn’t be there, but she was….
Now Christmas is coming, and I don’t have any real answer. I was told that the homeowners association in the neighborhood was trying to get the police to take her away because her presence was devaluing the neighborhood. It was like she had as little value as the pile of clothes and rags she had wrapped around her body.
I too feel helpless and powerless. As a Christian, I know the story of all the folks that walked by a helpless man on the Jericho Road who had been beaten and left by the road, several religious people walked by, but one who was not so religious, a Samaritan actually did something, He picked the man up, took him into an Inn and paid for his keep until his recovered.
Author: Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, 2019