You were hunched over. Just barely putting one foot in front of the other, you wobbled past me on this concrete pavement. That brown plaid striped coat hung over your back as if it were meant to be worn by someone else. You were carrying an old, blue plastic bag. I don’t know what was inside.
I saw you as I struggled to climb up the stairs from my daily-routinized morning subway station. No matter how many days I’ve walked up those stairs, I am always breathless at the top. I usually rush into my office. But today, I noticed you.
It was an unusual Friday in the office. I usually hear lots of talk about food and plans for the weekend… having a little too much to drink, going a little too far. But today there was talk of a different kind. Talk about vacation spots turned into talk about all-inclusive hotels turned into talk about poor countries turned into talk about prostitution turned into talk about child prostitution turned into talk about 8 and 9 year girls being loaned for $40 a night turned into talk about men and women who exploit these children. And adults, for that matter.
I wanted so desperately to join that conversation but I didn’t want the discussion to be disrupted. With my back turned, tears quietly flowed down my cheeks. I usually tune out all of your talk, but today, I noticed you.
An overwhelming sense of relief came over me as a misunderstanding was cleared up. But then a strange sense of sadness settled in and I couldn’t shake it off. I tried to cry, but I was unsuccessful at getting any tears to come out. What was the origin of this sadness? I usually just tuck it all inside and accept it as part of the pain of being alive, but today, I noticed me.