Things Unseen

December 1, 2011
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“Dang, it’s freezing outside.” I shivered as my friend Judy and I exited the bus on a chilly Friday afternoon in November. The biting wind seemed to pierce through our clothes and we walked quickly across the street to wait for another bus that would take us the rest of the way home. We typically had to wait for about twenty minutes before the next bus took off because that was their resting point, but Judy and I always found something to do. Today, we decided to celebrate the end of a long, difficult week by walking across the street to the Galleria, a small mall with an expensive movie theatre, several flashy clothing stores, a couple of small restaurants, and, unavoidably, a Starbucks. Craving some frapuccinos, we weaved our way through the crowd of noisy teenagers and couples and entered the coffee shop, greeting by the inviting smell of brewing coffee.
“Starbucks is so overpriced, but I can’t resist in once in a while.” I remarked as we stood in line behind a tough, curly-haired teenager who was listening to rap that we could distinctly hear through his earphones. He was holding a $20 bill in his hand, and his other hand fiddling with a heavy, bejeweled wallet with colorful, graffiti-like designs.

Judy rolled her eyes in his direction.
“OK, we get it. You’re loaded. Why do you have to show off like that?” I grumbled to her. We giggled.
Suddenly, I noticed a small woman shivering at the table visible behind Judy’s shoulder. I hadn’t seen her come in—though you would have thought I would, because her desolate figure was so incongruous in this world of satisfied people working on their laptops and enjoying their beverages. She had no drink in her hands, nor did it look like she had any money to buy one. Her windblown hair was streaked with white, and her face looked too young to be as creased and worn as it was. One thing was certain—she was not dressed for this weather. Her short-sleeve shirt was almost as worn as she was, her leggings had a hole in the thigh area, and—
“Look,” I nudged Judy in her direction, “she’s not wearing shoes.”
She seemed to be wearing about 5 pairs of socks, one on top of the other, but they were held together by thin threads that did nothing to stop that wind or protect her from the harsh pavement. I thought guiltily of my own warm boots, and wondered idly if I could give them to her. We were not the only ones who had noticed the woman’s presence. The kid in front of me stared at her intently for a few seconds. He had turned off his music, and in the relative silence the other patron’s voices seemed booming and harsh. Suddenly he turned to me.
“Hey, make sure that lady doesn’t leave, ok?” he asked. Then he got out of line and rushed out the door. Judy and I stared at each other. We numbly ordered our mocha fraps, then had to be reprimanded by the waitress before we realized we were blocking the cash register. We took the table next to the one where the woman sat, glancing at her while we tried to force a light conversation. She seemed to notice us and instinctively drew her feet under the chair to try to hide them. Just then, the guy returned with a bag in his hand and ran up to the lady, who appeared terrified of him.
“Here—try these on.” He told her. “I got you a size 7, but if they’re too small the receipt is in the bag.” He reached in and took out a pair of white sneakers. She stared at him in a mixture of bewilderment and distrust.
“They’re for you.” The guy seemed uncomfortable, and he fiddled with the straps of his tiny Jansport backpack that I loved to make fun of for their lack of functionality.

“No, no, I’m fine, really…” the woman’s voice trailed off as she clutched the sneakers to her tired body.

“’Kay, gotta go.” The guy grinned and ran out, pushing the door closed behind him.
The woman stared at swinging door, tears beginning to roll from her eyes. Suddenly she gasped, and we saw her reach into the bag and take out the ridiculous, multi-colored wallet we had made fun of before.

“Oh my god, oh my god, thank you…” she whispered.
Just then our drinks were called, and, feeling we had intruded in on a private moment, we grabbed them and walked out silently.
As we neared the bus stop, we saw the same kid standing at the corner. I approached him timidly.
“That was awesome—what you did in there.” I said, feeling very inferior with my foot-tall drink topped with an atrocious amount of whipped cream. But he didn’t answer—he didn’t even turn around. Standing next to him for an awkward moment, I realized he had gone back to listening to rap.

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