My bus stop is at the edge of a pretty homogenous neighborhood and in the mornings there’s normally a pretty homogenous crowd of people dressed for the office. Â Today, just before the bus arrived, a woman crossed the street and walked toward the small group of us waiting in the shelter.
The woman stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. She had a hat pulled down to her eyebrows and was wearing a giant coat and pants a couple of sizes too big. From the way she walked, it was obvious that her shoes didn’t fit, either. But there was something about her that looked, well, normal. Her eyes were clear and bright and she had a self-contained grace that I found riveting.
The small group of us filed onto the bus. From where I was sitting, I watched the woman talking with the driver. “How long can I use this transfer?” I heard her say. She was trying to get somewhere downtown. She and the driver talked, the woman nodding attentively. I watched as she pulled a notebook bound with a rubber band from the huge pocket of her giant coat. She opened the notebook and wrote something in it, then replaced the rubber band and put the notebook back into her pocket.
I decided that, if the woman got off before my stop, I would follow her. She fidgeted in her seat and suddenly was standing at the door. I jumped up and followed her down the steps.
“Do you need help finding anything?” I asked her. She turned to me with a smile, her beautiful face fully open. “Thanks. I need to get downtown. Are you going downtown, too?” I told her I was headed to work and pointed west, where my office building was visible about a half dozen blocks away.
As we walked a block or so together, I peppered the woman with questions. Where was she staying? “I sleep wherever I can find a doorway; it’s treacherous. But hopefully temporary.”Â Where had she come from? “I’m from North Dakota,” she said. “But I can’t get out of Portland no matter what I do.” Why was she trying to leave? She said something about a bombing â€“ that she’d been bombed a trillion times or more.
Part of me wondered if there was some truth to what she was saying. I’ve made the mistake before of disbelieving a far-fetched (but true) story. I’ve also believed things that seemed plausible but turned out to be complete hogwash. I try to maintain a neutral stance: not believing but not disbelieving, either. But the woman’s story got stranger and stranger.
“It’s not nice to blow people up,” she said with a firm nod. “I’m prominent. Now there’s a lot of people on death row because of it. Some have been executed already.”
She stopped at another bus shelter and looked questioningly at the sign. “Will this bus get me downtown?” I reassured her that it would and said I wanted to give her something. “I hope this will help you out a little,” I said, handing her the hundred. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she said. Then she shook my hand and said, “Trust me, this is going to save my life.”
She reached through multiple layers and unbuttoned her flannel shirt pocket, quickly tucking the bill inside. She said her name was Echo. That seemed so fitting, as I heard her voice throughout the day. I can hear it now.
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It would be nice to think that a C-Note can save a life. I think I’ll believe that for now. It seems to be a harmless thing to hope for. She’s got a great smile.
I was waiting for the day I would see someone I knew on your blog! I met Echo over 25 years ago when I was about 8 years old and my parents invited her over for Sunday dinner after church one day. She went by another name then, but I remember her well. Through the last dozen years or so before I moved over here to England I was working with a group called Can We Help? (http://tinyurl.com/CanWeHelp) leading street contact teams and occasionally I would see Echo around town. It’s really lovely to see that Portland still looks out for her. No wonder she can’t leave. :o)
Sheena- This is all just amazing to me!! I love that you have been waiting to see someone you knew and then you did! I love thinking about Echo being brought home for dinner by your family after church. You, meeting her as an 8 year old and remembering her all these years. I have lived in Portland 17 years and have never seen or noticed her before. How lovely to have you as a reader all the way from England. Thank you!! Jill
I just got on to catch up. It’s been awhile. I still can not forget the face of the homeless young woman. Carrie? Here is a book I recently read that you might like: Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them by Randy Christiansen with Rene Denfield. I learned about it in The Oregonian. Denfield is an Oregon author.