She was swaying back and forth, from square to square, on the pavement sidewalk. I’d thought maybe she was drunk.
“Hey, you guy,” she said. She stopped me in my tracks, pressing her hand into my chest. I was trying to walk past her. I’d needed to go to the store. She wouldn’t let me, just yet.
“Hey. How are you,” I said.
She had a dumb-looking grin on her face, which had turned, dramatically, to a steeping set frown. Her eyes bulged over wide; she’d seemed, either like she was going to cry or she had just finished. I was concerned, but not overly concerned, just yet, as I’d grown a bit jaded, admittedly, to any emotions offered to me on the street.
The night just before this I had met the most atrociously shiftless street scammer yet — a woman, who claimed to me, that her car had just caught fire and that she needed five bucks, because that makes sense. Her eyes fell half asleep as she asked me this. I kindly told the woman, no, that I did not have five dollars. And in truth I did not have five dollars. I did not have one dollar. In fact, I had just been denied a lemonade, by a sixteen-year-old kid behind a register, for being three cents too short. She walked away.
“How do you get, to Mirror Lake,” she asked, and she seemed worried.
I instructed her, as requested. She wasn’t too far from Mirror Lake — all she needed was to walk ten blocks down and turn right — this, was what I told her.
She responded, as If I were speaking in Greek. She turned around, looking out behind us. I turned around, as well, to see what this was. She then looked at me. I looked at her. She pointed out to the distance. “That way,” she asked, half-telling me.
“Uhh, no,” I said, dumbfoundedly, “It’s, the other way, just like I said.”
She threw up her hands to her face, mumbling, in mild despair.
“It’s really not hard to get to Mirror Lake, I’m telling you, you’re almost there,” I said, trying to assure her. I’d thought to pull out my phone, to show her this on a map. As I was about to do this, she saw me reaching for it, then stopped me.
“You seem like a nice guy, you’re a nice guy,” she said, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Yeah, thanks, I think I am,” I said, unsure of where this was going. All I’d wanted, was a coffee at the gas station.
“They’re after me,” she said.
“Who’s after you?”
She didn’t answer this, but Immediately: “I need to get to Mirror Lake.” Her only reply.
“I know, you told me this, but who’s after you? Are you in trouble,” I implored her.
“I’m always in trouble,” she quipped, with a heavy heart.
I nodded. I was now concerned. At least this much I can say.
“Can you walk me there,” she asked.
I thought it over — quickly, did I do this. There was not really too much to think over.
“Sure,” I said.
She thanked me.
“But, let me go inside first, and get a coffee.”
When I walked inside, I thought things over some more. Was this a bad idea, I wondered. She said people were after her, which was truly my only concern. At this point, having talked to her, I’d gathered enough to know she wasn’t drunk — her mind was definitely somewhere outside this world, but by what means had she used to leave it, I still wasn’t sure. I’d thought, maybe crack. I’d considered, as well though, perhaps bath salts or floka.
I payed for the coffee, and walked back outside. There, I saw her talking to a cabbie. She was asking the man how to get to Mirror Lake. The cabbie seemed frustrated. She kept asking him how to get to Mirror Lake. He kept telling her how to get to Mirror Lake. It was a cycle; it seemed to be going nowhere.
I leaned up against the wall — outside the gas station, just left of the front doors — and there I watched, as this transpired. She was talking so fast to the man, it was like she were rapping but without any rhythm. The cabbie then raised his voice, to speak over her — and, in doing this, he eyed me, briefly, just acknowledging my presence perhaps — but then back to her he proceeded: “Nineteen blocks — THAT WAY,” he stamped, indexing the direction behind her. To this she said nothing. The cabbie shook his head.
I interjected, “Do you still need me to walk you?”
She turned around, “Yes,” she said, and walked towards me, and away from the cabbie. I watched the cabbie, for his reaction. He just shook his head some more, and carried on.
As we began walking, I asked her, “Who’s after you? I just hope I’m not walking myself into something.”
Where we stood, outside the gas station, as I said this, there were a few people watching us — eavesdropping — and for me at least, this was awkward. She started mumbling, loudly. I directed her then to follow me to the pavement, to attain us both some privacy.
“You have no reason to not be honest with me. If I’m going to walk you to Mirror Lake, I will feel much more comfortable if I know exactly what’s going on,” I told her — entirely forthwrite.
It took a while for her to spill out anything that was comprehensible — not so much because her words, but because her thoughts came out in fragments — her thoughts kept jumping, as if uncontrollably, from one thing to the next; it was like a game of whack-a-mole, for me, trying to nail exactly what she’d meant when she spoke, but whenever I did happen to nail something, she’d let me know it. After a few blocks of walking, and of us conversing like this, what I’d gathered, was that she’d been doing crack and the people she’d done it with had tried to rob her.
“These people,” I said, “Are they your friends, or was this strictly business,” I asked.
I’d considered this an important question. We’d just passed by my apartment, and we were now a third of the way to Mirror Lake.
“They hurt me, emotionally, and they always try to rob me,” she said — refreshingly restrained.
I nodded. She asked me then if I wanted to smoke. I told her, no.
She wasn’t yet calm, to any extent, and often she would look behind her. I wondered, whether she was looking toward where she’d believed was the right direction to Mirror Lake, or she was looking out for whoever it was she believed was after her.
“You’re not carrying, are you?”
“I said, you’re not carrying, are you? What I’m asking you, is if you have any crack on you.”
“Oh. No, I don’t,” she said.
I was worried — just a bit — because of how obvious her behavior was. She was an easy target for a cop, and among the last things I’d want, was to be her accessory.
I wasn’t too worried however, about the said people chasing after her — at least, in those moments, I wasn’t — even if they’d exist, even if they were after her — as long as we stayed on the roads, I felt confident we were safe. Too many people were still out and about, on the roads, for anything bad, such as what she was fearing, to actually happen there, or so at least this I reasoned — or so I believed, or so I hoped, or perhaps so I risked.
In short time it seemed she was frustrated with me. She told me I was wasting her time. I took mild offence to this. Very mild offence. I cleared my throat, “My name’s Paul, what’s yours?”
“I’m Kimberly,” she said, and then,
immediately: “I worked [incomprehensible] hours, fucking tables, [incomprehensible], now they want to rob me, now you’re wasting my time.”
“Do you have somewhere to stay, like a house, or a friend’s apartment, once we get there, to Mirror Lake? Because once we do get there, I hope do you know, Kimberly, that I do plan to walk away.”
She calmed down, at least, for a moment she did. She suggested we cut through the park. I told her, no. She then insisted. Still, I told her, no. She raised her voice, “I know how to get to where I’m going.”
At the time, what she said to me, it did not register; I simply had failed to realize the obvious implication — I failed to then ask: What are we doing then?
“If I’m going to walk you to Mirror Lake, we’re staying on the roads. I’m not going through parks, I’m not cutting through alleys.”
But I guess it was all the same.
She erupted once more. She told me I was wasting her time, told me she was leaving, told me to go away.
I just stood, anticipating perhaps that she would change her mind.
She didn’t flick me off, more simply she had just swatted the air at me goodbye, then jaywalked through traffic, and disappeared into the park. I turned around and walked back home.