There’s an old woman on the corner wrapped in a thin blanket emblazoned with an American flag, and it’s late. She’s tossing and turning, mumbling something about India and Budapest; about Persia and how she just barely got away. I listen to her ramblings for a second, then nudge her gently with my shoe.
“Don’t you think you should move?” I kindly ask. “How about sleeping across the street behind the office building?”
She has chosen a terrible street corner to set up camp, and I tell her this over and over again. It’s exposed. Carlsbad police cruise by regularly — in fact, there goes one right now. The drunks will go nuts and beat or harass her for fun.
“I’m aware of all that,” she said. “Now get lost.”
But I don’t. Something tells me if I’m persistent, she’ll move. I ask if she needs anything — water or an extra blanket. She breathes a deep, frustrated sigh. “Didn’t I tell you to get lost?” she barks. Why I’m so concerned about this poor soul, I haven’t a clue.
She tells me she has small pox and pneumonia, and this could be the truth or her lone defense. I’m not certain, so I instinctually take a step back, feeling rude for doing so. She seems to enjoy the intended effect.
Sensing that I won’t stop bugging her, she emerges from her cocoon, fishing for a smashed soft pack of smokes. Her dirty blue sweatshirt bears the words “Best Grandma Ever.” She has trouble with the lighter, but puffs hard on the cigarette when it’s lit, inhaling and exhaling quickly until the ember hits the filter just in time to light another.
I never get a glimpse of her full face, just the deep wrinkles along her neck and rough patches around her chin. Her voice sounds like a bullfrog that’s been smoking for 100 years.
“You know, I was young and adventurous once,” she croaks. “I shouldn’t have left India, so vast and beautiful and … ” but she trails off. She said she’s been around the world, having worked in a mine under dangerous conditions and even experienced a war. She’s seen it all.
I inquire about what happened in India, the gallingly curious sociologist/journalist coming out in me. She waves the question off with a flick of the wrist, and I notice her arm is broken or badly sprained. I almost gag. It’s twisted and swollen, black and purple all over. I ask if she needs medical attention, but she politely refuses. How does she deal with the pain?
She said she was raped in the park the other night by a big, powerful man, so the “arm thing” is really no big deal at the moment. She’ll get it looked at when she’s ready.
And just as abruptly as she came out of hiding to smoke, she turns in for the evening. She wishes me a good night and quickly pulls the blanket over her head. Fair enough, I said, and good luck tonight. A few rowdy drunks march up the street, louder than hell and not making a lick of sense. Good luck, indeed.
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