It doesn’t matter why we were in Fresno, CA at 9am on a Friday morning.
I was jacked up on coffee, it is true, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, but the sun was shining and the temperature had dropped on that first day of autumn.
I’d exited Highway 99 to get breakfast at Taco Bell and use the internet. When it was time to get back on the 99, we could see the highway, but due to the one-way street we were on, we couldn’t get directly to it. The Man was working with Google Maps to get us to our destination, and I found myself driving through an industrial part of the city that looked sketchy to my no-longer-accustomed-to-an-urban-environment eyes.
Make a left, The Man told me.
Here? I screeched. I could see railroad tracks, but no street.
Here, The Man confirmed, and I turned. There was a street there, narrow and running next to the tracks.
It wasn’t a place where I’d expect to see people walking around, so I noticed the woman near what appeared to be a warehouse. There was rubbish piled all over, and while the woman was standing, she seemed somehow hesitant, as if she’d stumble if she took a step. I didn’t get the impression she was drunk, but imagined she’d recently awaken and emerged from a nest in the trash. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake and still unsteady on her feet.
I glanced at her and made assumptions about her in a second or two while I was driving, then put my eyes back on the road. When I looked at her again, I realized something else.
She was an African-American woman, thin, wearing a red ball cap and a long red shirt, but I’m pretty sure she wan’t wearing pants. I didn’t see any private parts or underpants, and maybe she was wearing short shorts under he long red shirt, but I don’t think she had on pants or a skirt or any sort of bottoms.
Some people would make a joke here about a woman who forgot to put her pants on, but I didn’t see anything funny, only felt profound sadness.
After telling her about the woman, Nolagirl said in a text, She probably has some mental illness which makes it hard to remember you need pants. That’s probably true.
It shouldn’t happen to anyone—mentally ill, living on the streets, sleeping in a pile of trash, no pants or the recollection that pants are a necessity—but it’s not a way of life we associate with the developing world, not here in the good ol’ US of A.
I know people are homeless, I’ve seen them, and I’ve been one of them, but even I can be shocked when confronted. No wonder so many folks who’ve never lived on the streets can pretend it’s not happening in their country and can believe those homeless people are different, a foreign other.
In seconds, we had passed the woman. The Man never even saw her. Out of my sight isn’t out of my mind, though. The woman haunts me. I wish I could have done something for her, but what?
What could one stranger passing through, a stranger in her on edge-living situation really do to help? I suppose I could have given her a couple of bucks or a pair of pants, but would either of those things have really helped her? My tiny offerings would not have changed her life. Still, I feel as if I should have done something.