By the time I reach the crest of Maple street, I’m agitated. The upward climb on icy blacktop has been tense, and tense is not the state of mind I seek on these early morning walks. I stop for a minute. Try to settle myself, and I see her in the next block. Mincing her way along the sidewalk that borders the front of her house, pausing every few feet to sweep up what appears to be the spilled contents of her recycling bin.
My steps, still stiff from the fear of falling, stilt me towards her as quickly as I dare to travel. The sight of her makes my heart ache. Broom in one hand, dustpan in the other, she is elderly, her rounded shoulders clad insufficiently in a loosely hanging cardigan sweater layered over a summer housecoat. She must be freezing her tush off. And sure enough. Someone has upended her bin. Probably just to be nasty.
Idiots! I rant the words into my scarf as I bend to retrieve a flattened cereal box, tilted ramp-like against the curb, but the old woman does not hear me. In fact, as she straightens up she is startled by my presence. But then she relaxes, and smiles.
Thank you! She exhales her appreciation in a puff of frosty foreign-accented breath.
I’ve turned her bin right side up, commiserating as I refill it. I’m sorry this happened to you! It must make you so angry that someone did this!
She doesn’t respond.
Puzzled, I skim her beautiful weathered face, searching out animosity. It’s not there.
Finally, she speaks.
It is nothing. Truly, and sincerely, it is nothing.
As she drops shards of broken glass into the bin, I’m stunned to see the numbers, tattooed on her wrist. And in her present time, and place, I understand.