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I did a good thing but I had a bad thought

Yesterday I was walking along wind-whipped Somerset Street on my way to buy a jicama. I saw a panhandler I like because she’s always got a smile for me even though I never give her money. But she wasn’t smiling: she was fighting back tears. One of her friends stopped to talk to her, but she wasn’t talking. I kept walking.

But then I turned around and went back, and I put $5 in her hat. “I know it’s only money,” I said helplessly, “But I hope it helps a little.” She reached up and grabbed my hand, and pulled me down to the curb with her. And then she threw herself into my arms and sobbed like a child. What could I do? I sat there on the curb, holding her and rocking her back and forth while she wept.

That was the good thing I did. But the bad thought was “I hope she doesn’t have lice,” because our hair was touching. I felt ashamed of myself for thinking that.

Her friend sat beside her, on the other side, and said nice things. He told me I was very nice. He told her it was going to be okay. Then her boyfriend came along with a Tim Horton’s cup with water in it for her. Her boyfriend barked at her to stop crying. Her friend told her boyfriend to smarten up and don’t be such a jerk and try for once to be a bit sensitive. Her boyfriend shouted “She’s MY old lady, don’t tell me what to do, we’ve buried half our friends, everybody dies, there’s no point crying about it.” Her friend said “Karen, I don’t know why you put up with him.” Karen just kept her face buried in me throughout this exchange, while I watched with interest. A kind-looking man with long white hair dropped a $10 bill into her hat while we sat there, and she saw it. “Wow,” she said, “Thank you.” But she said it so quietly, almost to herself, and he was already gone.

She stopped crying and she sat up and took her $10 bill, and she seemed better. She told me her name was Karen. She’s from the Northwest Territories. She said she was sad because her friend Tony had died; he’d been hit by a truck while hitchhiking to Belleville. She said too many of her friends had died, and she was scared she was next, and Tony was just a wandering old hippie who didn’t deserve to die.

KarenI asked her if I could take her picture, and she said only if I told her she looked beautiful. And then she smiled, and she DID look kind of beautiful. I took her picture.

She wanted me to take a picture of her with her boyfriend, so I did. This is Karen and her boyfriend:
Karen and her boyfriend

And this is Karen’s friend:
Karen's friend


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