There is an old woman who rides around my neighborhood on a bike. She rides slow. I walk faster than she rides.
Even in winter, she rarely wears a coat and many days wears pink shorts. She sometimes carries a bag of cans, that I assume she takes to the corner market, The NuRiteway, to exchange for cash. I love the name of the NuRiteway. Right?
Her skin is black, ashen. Her hair is cropped short, and pushed back and down on her head. I imagine she smells like pomade. Her eyes are sad and lonely and remind me of my mother.
She drinks. She uses the cash she gets from the cans to buy booze, beer or MD 20/20. I don’t think she has a preference.
She never speaks to me, but every now and then I will get a nod from her. I sometimes say hello, but she doesn’t respond.
A few days ago, I was out for a quick dinner on Mississippi Avenue and walked past her. She was sitting outside of the Crow Bar, a divey joint that serves drinks late into the evening, long past my bedtime. I stopped after walking past and thought – I’m going to buy her a drink. I thought again, that’s crazy, what if she thinks you’ll always buy her drinks? I’m annoyed at myself for thinking this so I go back.
I’m nervous about saying hello to her, but I breathe in and then say “Hi, I see you around a lot and we never say hello. I’d like to buy you a drink and have a conversation with you. Would you be good with that?”
She replied “Yeah, that sounds good.” Her tongue, heavy in her mouth as she talks slow, like she rides her bike.
“Good, I’m Amy and what’s your name?”
“Good, got it. Jenny.”
We go inside, it’s dark and damp, she says “She’s paying.” I check the bartender and he raises an eyebrow. “Yes, I’m paying, Jenny, what are you having?”
“A White Russian.” she says, without hesitation.
She does have a preference of what she’d like to drink. White Russian.
I order a white wine, which is not a very good white wine given it’s the Crow Bar, but nonetheless, here we are.
We go back outside and sit in the sun and I ask Jenny questions.
“How long have you been in this neighborhood?”
“What was it like then?”
“How have you made a living?”
“Do you have any children?”
Jenny, has no children and used to be a bartender and a housekeeper. She drinks most everyday all day. She doesn’t know why anymore. She does smell like hair product.
She gets more animated as we talk and I realize, she’s a nice lady and could be anyone.
After our conversation, I’m ready to head home. I say to Jenny.
“Now that we know each other a little bit, maybe when we pass each other on the street we can say hello. What do you think?”
“Yeah, she says. Yeah.”
I’m not sure if she’s serious, but she smiles at me a little and takes another drink of White Russian.
She didn’t accept another drink, even though I offered. She didn’t ask for anything else, we had a nice conversation and I left her in her space.
We’ve had some drug dealing and shady characters in our neighborhood lately. One person even took a picture of Jenny and posted it to an online forum thinking maybe she had something to do with it. Maybe she does, I don’t know.
What I do know is that I like to think that all people are inherently good and given the chance they’ll find their New Right Way to be in the world, but not everyone gets that chance, or chooses to take it. So, I try to remember when I see people in the world who are different than me and who’ve made different choices than me – that they could be me and I could be them – if either of us had made different choices.
I’m glad I sat down with Jenny and hope the next time I see her she’ll say hello, one neighbor to another.