Seemed like great people

Walking to the light rail this morning a wheel-chair bound woman stalled in front of me. I expected her to ask for money like all uncaring city-folk in mustard yellow dresses with smartphones expect women who look like her to do. Her dirt-stains left rings around her body – halos or disease; her hair stringy; her teeth rotting like roots in damp earth. She had an old crescent bruise under one eye and one black shoe – mismatched with a green bootie. When she spoke, my answer was already manufactured: I don’t have any money. And I told myself – that’s true, I don’t have any money.
“Excuse me, Where’s the hospital?”
We both stopped in the throughway of a major strip mall. I looked at her stunned. I’ve become such an asshole.

There weren’t any hospitals around here, I told her. Not where we lived.
“St. Johns,” she said. “They said 7th Avenue.”
I looked up then down as if all the months I’ve been driving the streets, I’d somehow missed a sterilized white building or the sound of sirens late into the night.
“No, there’s no hospital,” I shook my head, wondering if she meant the Urgent Care plopped right next to the Sally’s Beauty Supply.
I pulled out my phone, stammering, trying to figure out how she got all the way up here and at the same time inching my way out of traffic hoping she would follow.
When did I become so judgmental? Is it a form of armor – being leery of people who look like they might hurt or take advantage of me?
Just the night before I was walking home from the gym, hearing Pat’s “Be careful!” in my ear, when I passed a desolate-looking man lingering by the bike racks. I almost turned the corner of the building – a straight shot home with minimal traffic, basically a glorified alley with street lights – until I realized the man was behind me. I veered a little to see him in my peripherals, made calculations of walking a deserted parking lot with a drunk-hobo- rapist-murderer-god knows what behind me and made a B-line back towards the gym, parking lot and more importantly people. Was it really his intention to hurt me? I have no idea. He walked quickly away to the street like nothing was amiss.

I’m not a moron, I carry my keys like a shank between my knuckles and my water bottle filled, ready to swing into someone’s face like a hammer . But how do we know when to help people in a world piqued to hurt us?
I could have let the woman be lost. I could have said, there’s no hospital here and left her in the middle of traffic without a sense of East or West. But I googled the hospital; checked on the best routes to get her there and pointed her in a direction South.
When do we trust? I guess the only thing we can rely on is our instincts, but even the Ponzis and Madoffs of the world seemed like great people once …

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