by Christine Breede
I stride through the city grid with everyday impatience, a woman in dark frames, while fifty feet away, there stands a man on a sidewalk grate, in stillness, with a face as muddled as the sagging pants dropped below his waist, and he will not slow me down, as if this was expected, even though when I get closer, deep down, it makes me want to shout, pull up your pants, man, but instead, I frown and look away from the dark shape, away from myself, who believes that a walk through the city is just that, a walk in my sweet home, with an orderly mind and my wallet thick with dollars I can spend as I wish but won’t give to the poor, jumbled man, who needs them more than I, the one who willed herself into feeling indifferent to the one who cannot give back, or is feeling annoyed, as he is imposing himself with his needs instead of letting me walk through him like through other city humans on this sunny day to a place where I can spend the money I earned, without regret and not think of the day, when I saw my first homeless person, the summer I turned fifteen, new to the city, and couldn’t take my eyes off her, the woman dressed in many layers despite the scalding heat and even more bewildering, sprinkled with crumpled, fake flowers in her hair, attached to her battered cart and her button holes without buttons, red, blue and yellow, once chosen because they promised grace, once beautiful, now oddly sublime, so that I had to stop, me, fifteen, unable to move past with a flinch and a frown like I do now, because back then I asked myself a simple question, why does this woman have a garden in her hair, crusty blood on her feet, how can things be so desolate between regions of glamor, how come she attaches crumpled flowers to her world, red, blue and yellow, seeking beauty – or is she seeking kindness from the one who knows what it means to lose beauty – in a city of a million shapes, noble or not, this woman who made me see her so I can still see her now, decades later, as I stride forward and past, older, toughened, knowing how transient life is, how it feels when the future dissolves in the moment, and yet ready to dismiss the strange man rather than to dismantle my own feelings, ready to drop some coins into a tip box for a coffee minutes later, the first sip burning my mouth, until I think, think again, eyes on me and not liking what I see, until I stop, still doubtful but this time pull out a dollar for a man with soiled pants and no flowers or a woman with no soil for her crippled flowers, red, blue and yellow, arranged and outlived only by her wish to see them bloom.
Christine Breede holds an MS from Columbia University, serves as a speech therapist for the International School of Geneva, and organizes writers’ workshops for teenagers and adults. Her work has been published online and in print, and has been recognized by several leading contests. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2020 and recently won the 2022 Bumble Bee Flash Fiction Contest. She is currently at work on her first novel.