For some reason I cannot explain, my eyes went first to her feet. I pulled into the gas station/convenience store for small items I did not want to patronize a big store for. I don’t care for crowds, so small stores are my thing, at least when I have a need for them. I pulled in and parked adjacent to the ice machines outside. When I put the car’s transmission into park and cut the engine, she caught my eye through my car’s windshield. She had stringy black hair. It was oily, overwhelmingly oily. She was in gray sweatpants, three or four layers of shirts, and a man’s jacket. She had on soiled white socks and black sandals. It was raining today, too, all day, and yet here she was–in sandals, with oily, stringy black hair, in dirty socks and black sandals, pushing a silver shopping cart in front of the ice machine at the gas station/convenience store. She never looked up at me–or at anything. She shuffled her way onto a worn dirt path that ran diagonally from the corner of the gas station to a copse of trees and scrub forty yards from the store. I watched her. I thought it odd she never looked up. She just pushed the cart. There was nothing in it, like it was the symbol of her life. What was I to do? Speak? Get her attention? For what? To offer … money? An ear to listen? Was she a drunk? Or was she an abused wife, living behind the station in squalor, because it was better than returning to some abusive alcoholic, violent man? Was she a mom? Were there children in the woods behind the station? Should I have gone to check?
When I got into the store, I momentarily forgot what I had come for. My thoughts were fixed upon the woman. Where was she? Where was I now? I finally remembered what I’d driven to the store for. I got my small items, paid the Indian or Pakistani man at the counter, and exited through the front door of the store where I had entered just a moment before. But much had changed within me. When I got to my car she was gone. Into the woods behind the store, I figured. With her cart full of nothing.
I drove back to my place, opened the door, laid my items on the table when I walked inside, and felt as empty as the shopping cart. The rain continued to fall. Her hair and those black sandals and that silver cart in the woods behind the station flooded my mind as the gray bore down.