I could smell her long before I saw her. The stench of long-forgotten mothballs floating in a miasma of stale Chanel No. 5, greasy week-old bacon sweat, and unwashed musty denim cloaked her in a cloud almost visible in its thickness.
My eyes watered like laden clouds in the deep jungle and my nostrils put up a valiant struggle before bursting into searing flames of sensory overload. I turned toward the approaching scent storm, preparing myself for an even larger, all-out assault on my senses.
From the inky darkness, her shape took form and solidified. Her stubby legs gave her the height of a mountain dwelling dwarf of some high magic fantasy land. The width of her hips and shoulders was reminiscent of the stone giant from a popular fantasy movie of my childhood. Her chocolate colored canvas duster was worn through on the shoulders, strained by years of overstuffed overuse. The faded blue of her jeans was barely visible through the caked on mud and grime, accumulated through too much time spent on filthy city streets.
As she floated closer, through the yellowed spotlight cast by the hazy lampost overhead, she smiled at me, her mouth missing more than half its teeth. The few snaggly teeth remaining were closer to citrine than ivory in color. Weeks of dirt ground into canyon sized wrinkles gave her gray face a road-map appearance, displaying her hardships and struggles for all to see.
I backed away, not quite cowering in my desire to avoid the woman, and dropped my eyes, avoiding the intimacy of our souls connecting. But my efforts were futile because the woman waddled purposefully toward me, her sparkling green eyes searching my person, gathering information about my temperment and ideals like a seasoned researcher paid to unearth the most complicated of conspiracies.
Far away, too distant to be my salvation, I spied the twin pinpricks of light that said the eleven o’clock bus was making its leisurely way down the darkened corridor of the lonely east side street. I tapped my booted foot, three times, in agitated annoyance before I settled once again into irritated patience.
The meaty hand on my left arm startled me. I’d nearly forgotten the old woman was closing in on me. But the gentle warmth jerked me back to awareness. Too late I remembered to avoid her emerald gaze.
“Sir,” her voice coughed, “you might need this. To catch the late bus….”
A metro bus pass, mine, waved in front of my open-mouthed face, clutched tightly in her filthy, heavy fist. I snatched at the worn laminated piece of government paper while the homeless woman remained still, smiling her snaggle-toothed grin at my panic induced flailing.
“Th-thank you,” I finally stammered, too embarrassed to say more to the woman, my odorous savior of the night. Head hanginf in shame, I stuffed the pass deep into my back pocket.
Still shamed, I kept my head down, avoiding her stare as I patted my pockets, searching for my thin, hardly used wallet.
“How can I repay you,” I asked, pulling my minuscule stash of green bills from the faux leather holder. Hearing no immediate answer from the woman, I chanced a cautious peek.
I was alone, standing awkwardly in the yellowed spotlight of the streetlamp, on the lonely cracked sidewalk of the easternmost corridor, waiting impatiently for the late bus to make its labored way to my stop.