The first thing I noticed was the stuffed animal. Or, I think it was an animal. It was blue and ratty with light green eyes. It was dangling from a small duffle/backpack. There was another small nylon pouch-like bag hanging from the other side.
I'd just exited the art supply store where I'd picked up some pretty paper and was walking behind this girl who had just passed by the door. In addition to the things hanging off her back, I noticed her wavy dark hair pulled into a ponytail. She had on a pair of grey sweats tucked into black suede, flat-heeled boots.
I walked toward my bicycle that was locked to a post. As I pulled out my keys, she became aware of me and turned.
"Excuse me... (polite pause)... Do you have thirty-five cents?"
She had a bit of a homeless waif look about her. She was young, though. Twenty maybe? I found her simple yet specific request a bit odd. Thirty-five cents.
Also, in those seven short words, I detected intelligence. I've been approached by panhandlers before. Then there are those who set up at opportunistic intersections with cardboard signs. But I think it's safe to say that no panhandler with intelligent eyes has ever specifically asked me for thirty-five cents and in such a clear, polite, intelligent sounding voice.
This all made me curious about her story. I pulled out my wallet and rummaged a quarter and a dime. I found myself wanting to give her more. I often don't trust panhandlers, but I trusted that she really just wanted thirty-five cents.
I placed the coins in her grimy hand, and she thanked me in that same intelligent way.
That was the end of our exchange. I went back to unlocking my bicycle. As I went to pull out of the parking lot, I looked back in her direction. She'd continued to the grocery store and was putting the coins into one of the pop machines out front.
So I wonder about her. Was she really needy? If so, how did she end up in that position? Part of me wonders if it's not all a social experiment? Downtown, there is a small, expensive, private college. I've tutored there, and a lot of the students dress similarly to that girl. It's just their style. The homeless look.
When I was in college, a shanty town was constructed on campus, in an act of solidarity for South Africa. It was big. It was trashy. Some people complained.
The college administrators didn't worry about it too much. Seems they had a plan. Spring break came around, the poor rich shanty town residents left for Mazatlan and Acapulco, the whole thing was then torn down without a fight. I witnessed it since I stuck around to get in some extra work hours at my lowly retail job.
Is the girl doing a social experiment? Does she have an address? I know first impressions can be wrong, but something just seemed a little off.
Thirty-five cents worth of pondering.