As one cell in the organism

I wandered down the main street to find aspirin for a sick partner. I also, selfishly, wanted to go walk in the mountainous park across from our house before it got dark.

I stopped into a few places; no aspirin. I then stopped into a hippie grocery store, and as I walked out, a mother and daughter stopped me because they recognised me from TV. We talked for a little bit about the show; I mentioned I was now working in tech, unrelated to bodypainting, and they asked to if I would take a photo with the daughter. A passing-by Santa photobombed our photo as we took it.

I kept walking and got a WhatsApp call from my dad. As I answered it I saw a stunningly ugly bulldog standing alone at the entrance to a hairdresser. I went up to say hello, still with the phone to my ear, and the bulldog turned his back into me and backed up with the international signal for ‘pats, please’. Three or four people came up to pat him and at no point did I see his owner. Apparently his name is Gabriel and he hangs out at the front of the store every day for ten or so hours.

I kept walking. Maybe Wholefoods would have aspirin? A homeless girl was begging near the entrance. As I walked past I heard her say something like ‘just some apple juice?’. She looked about my age, maybe a bit younger, and sad but healthy. I wasn’t afraid of her. Almost at the entrance of the store, I turned around and walked back up to her.

‘If I were to get you something while I’m inside, what would you like?’

‘Some chicken noodle soup, or, a big thing of apple juice – I’m trying to get enough apple juice to last the night.’

How is there some amount of apple juice that will stop you being hungry overnight?

We discussed what kind of juice (cloudy versus clear – she prefers organic) and she made it clear that she wasn’t fussy (‘anything, I don’t mind’). I noticed close up that she had artsy tribal looking markings on her face – maybe light henna? I tried to come up with a back story for her but nothing clicked that would explain the white girl with body art begging for oddly specific food items from a Whole Foods.

I dove into the store and quickly found the chicken noodle soup, noting that it was mostly pasta – hardly the kind of thing that would be optimally nutritious if you weren’t eating much. It took me longer to find the apple juice, and I needed to ask a shop assistant. There was no plain, organic, cloudy apple juice available in the big, but not stupidly big size (I didn’t want to give her a chunky glass gallon thing that might go off and be hard to carry). I spent an absurd amount of time debating whether to get the apple ginger cider or the clear kids apple juice – what if she didn’t like ginger? That would be suboptimal, and she would feel picky, but if I couldn’t stand ginger and someone bought it for me I’d feel ickily obligated to them with the same feeling you get when clueless relatives buy you bad Christmas presents. I thought about getting the smaller one (same price, glass bottle, no ginger), but if you were so hungry you were begging for food, why would you want the smaller one? I briefly wondered whether she had looked through the selection in the Whole Foods deciding what to ask for. I decided on the apple ginger cider and hoped for the best.

Wholefoods had no real medications, only homeopathic and herbal stuff, so I gave up on finding the aspirin there. I must have been inspired to be generous or something, because I impulsively asked my ex-boyfriend (who I had been idly messaging the entire time) whether he needed American melatonin. I don’t know whether I normally think of myself as that considerate. I figured I should probably buy something for myself otherwise I’d feel odd going all the way, so I stocked up on expensive chocolate caffeine balls I can’t get at home.

When I came to the checkout her food came to around $15. I realised I never would have given a homeless person $15 if they had asked. It’s unlikely I would have even had the cash on me (are there any homeless people who take Venmo?) She was a pretty savvy business woman, and I admired her sales strategy. Maybe someone should start trying to hire street people into sales? If you can stand outside every day and ask for money from people who refuse to look you in the eye then you can probably sell health insurance to people who actually want to buy health insurance.

I sought out her eyes when I left the store; the opposite of my normal pact with homeless people. It was like she was part of a secret game – honestly she looked like someone I might have met at a university arts club.

I put the food down at her feet, muttered something and strode off, both with furtiveness and to avoid being ‘caught in the act’. It was an impulsive, one-off thing, and I didn’t want to start thinking of it as something I normally did. As I walked back up the street (and brag-texted the ex, doing the least amount of social damage with the impulse to show off) I felt the urge to look back at her and see her reaction.

This was fun.

I kept walking. Striding, and enjoying it, because it seemed like in my new wedge rubber boots all I could do was stride. Either generosity or the boots, but something was making me enjoy walking proudly, feeling my hips sway. A hippie couple was slightly in my way, and as I darted around them the girl looked me solidly in the eye, and said ‘Hey!’

‘Yeah?’

‘I like the way your face looks.’

It was such a bizarrely brazen, comfortable, and non-sexual catcall, and from a woman (who looked like me) that I was surprised, and actually enjoyed it. It seems strange, but of course I would feel less threatened by a catcall from a woman – I’d just never really encountered it before. I traipsed towards home in the warm afternoon sun with a smile on my face, wading through the Saturday people strolling down a cultured street purely for the fun of it.

Almost home, I stopped in an anarchist bookstore on a whim. I started chatting with the shopkeeper about Trump, and sexism, and traveling as a young woman. The conversation ranged widely and I could tell he was the kind of person who got professionally enraged about things. I was glad he felt like I could be an ally, because it would have been a different conversation entirely if he’d disliked me. As I gently made an excuse to leave to cut off what had become quite a rambling monologue about politics, he invited me to speak at their next performance night.

I had no idea what he thought I might speak about. He attempted to clarify that I was very eloquent, and I could speak about basically whatever I wanted to, and maybe my travels or where I was from? I left the store still really with no idea what attendees at an anarchist bookstore performance night might want to hear from a decidedly non-anarchist human with no specific agenda.

(Needless to say I never took him up on it.)

I got home, then turned around and immediately left again to take the train to a party across the bay.

A woman fell when the train shuddered, her bicycle landing on top of her. She was right next to me and I and five other people jumped up to right the bicycle, and pick up the sweet potatoes and bike lock that had scattered from her bike basket. The apple quarter I had been eating had landed near her on the floor and I scrambled to pick it up. The people in their bubbles had become, in an instant, a community of real humans with shared common goals working together. In an instant the invisible social agreement to ignore the rest of humanity on the subway had been broken.

One man put his hand firmly on her leg and asked her several times and a few different ways whether she was injured. She said she was okay. We passengers had been one community for minutes at this point, and the man’s compassion felt genuine and unashamed for being so public and watched by so many people. She halfheartedly insisted, again, that she was okay, perhaps a little embarrassed at so many eyes on her. Someone had called out to the driver to keep the doors open at the current station and with the whole train paused the woman managed to pick up her bike and wheel it off the carriage.

The subway doors slid shut, and in that fraction of a second the spell was broken and we became solo people in our bubbles again.

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