My grocery store and the sidewalk outside, are always packed after work. With so many customers jammed together, it must have seemed an ideal place to beg. But with four plastic grocery bags already cutting into my hands, I wanted the walk home behind me. When a space opened in the crowd, I stepped by the beggar, avoiding his eye. But the light at the corner had just turned red.
"Come on," he said to passersby, more urgently. "Something. Anything!"
I wondered if he was anxious to gather enough money to get into one of the city homeless shelters that charges its occupants, before the place closed for curfew. Then his tone hit rage.
"Stop that, now! Stop screwing up!" he yelled. "I got a job to do."
He went on, swearing, and I glanced back, fearing a brawl. But his target was a girl of about five, in layers of clothing. Her pink knapsack was open, and her little things had spilled onto the sidewalk. I turned back to the DON'T WALK sign and prayed for permission to WALK.
At times like these, the world seems its most unfair. I started trying late to have children, had trouble, and deeply missed what I couldn't have. Why are children given to people who abuse them? An imperative has grown inside me to protect others' kids.
About year ago, without planning to, I began mothering in public. I wasn't being a good samaritan; it was simply a way to relieve the bitterness. Riding the subway, I'd heard a teen-age mother shouting at her baby and wanted to rebuke her. But since scolding would only evoke more anger, I'd thought about what I could give.
"What a beautiful boy!" I said.
My remark distracted her, and for a moment she was confused. Then, as I went on cooing at her baby, she smiled and stroked his head.