I cannot stop thinking about the homeless beauty outside Café EnVie. Tall, athletic, dirty. White t-shirt tied in a tight bow above her belly button.
Walking home from St. Cecilia’s, the taste of brown butter still on my lips, potatoes Lyonnaise crunch still savored by taste buds. I had eaten every bite, my only meal since breakfast. Redfish Almondine, somehow flaky and tender. Only one of our five carried leftovers, the result of earlier Willie Mayes fried chicken. Her ‘food baby’ wouldn’t let her finish her own flaky fish dinner. Barracks Street was busy, of course, and as I was transported to San Francisco’s foggy bay by a friend’s words, I needed to move behind and beside to make room for evening strollers from opposite directions.
We crossed over Decatur, music from further away filling the air. A clump of people crowded, crouched over at their waists on the adjacent corner, like kids roasting marshmallows around a campfire, leaning in to check the brownness. The group huddled, swarming like ants on a hill over the pile of blankets and bedding-four or five of them; it was hard to tell.
Just past the last window of EnVie, her back to us, was another, perhaps part of that group, perhaps not.
As she turned, my eyes locked with hers. I had to look up. She was tall. Not thin. Her skin, exposed above her belly, I thought, would be soft to the touch, like a toddler’s that gives to a mother’s tickling fingers. Backlit by the street lamp, a mass of hair, dirty, thick, the beginning of dreads perhaps.
In slow motion, she stepped out of the street’s light as I moved forward, still listening, part of my mind fogged with San Francisco.
The homeless beauty’s eyes locked on mine. Her sadness, naked. She hadn’t planned on looking. I felt her surprise. She could have been my daughter’s age. She is someone’s daughter, I thought.
Instinctively, I smiled. My smile wasn’t pitying. My face opened without counterfeit. She looked down, found the pavement. I continued walking, hearing my friend’s words, but not.
“Excuse me…could you spare your leftovers, mommy?” the girl my daughter’s age asked the only one of us who had them.
Although I didn’t turn around to watch the exchange, I imagined the passing of the box to the girl as I heard my friend answer. “Of course, sweetheart. You enjoy it.”
I cannot get the girl out of my head. Did she sit down and eat right away? Did she walk across the street corner to share with the other five? Did she sleep alone, somewhere safe or stay up all night until the sky began to light a new day?
As I sit inside Café EnVie this morning, an army duffel lies almost hidden on the 2nd story balcony beside the door of an empty apartment. For Lease sign hanging by only one hook. What else lies beyond my line of sight? Is she there, pressed against the wall, shaded by brick and plaster? She was athletically built. Did she climb the black wrought iron post? Shimmy up, dragging the bag, all her worldly belongings upon her wiry shoulders? Was it flung up and over or placed lovingly, carefully where it lies? Is she sleeping there now, belly full of redfish almondine and crispy potatoes?
What changed her path, brought her to the French Quarter? She is someone’s daughter, once beloved-or not, I guess. I cannot imagine her mother’s pain. Does she know where her daughter puts her matted head at night? Does she cry, weep, gnash her teeth or does she sleep soundly, head nestled in downy dreams.
Does the homeless beauty sleep, dreaming of home? I cannot get her out of my head.