I was visiting New York for a few days, having moved to a bridgeless island in the Gulf of Mexico six months ago, and was staying with my daughter in her apartment on 96th Street.
I’m still adjusting to the sound of sirens instead of the osprey at 6 a.m., and to the absence of coffee aroma in the morning. I’m also adjusting to wearing shoes, taking off my prescription sunglasses indoors, and not making eye contact with everyone I pass on the street as if I know them.
Sunday morning, after waging a fruitless battle with my caffeine fix, I decided to go out at 6:30 a.m. to find a large regular. This was Manhattan, after all, and there had to be one nearby. I undid the triple locks on her front door, quickly took the four flights down and came out onto the front stoop. Standing there, I rummaged though my purse to prepare a few bills to pay for my coffee as a tall man in a worn wool coat passed by. We eyed each other.
The man doubled back and asked, “Miss, can you help me get something to eat?”
A year ago his request would have fallen on deaf ears, but I’ve spent six months sharing the fish I catch with a beggar great blue heron who shows up, on cue, whenever I pull a ladyfish onto the beach. This, I had explained to my daughters the day before, was why I walked around Manhattan with a pocketful of change to hand out, when asked.
In one of those cinematic moments that you can never repeat, I started down the steps, stuck my hand in my coat pocket to pull out some change, looked up and missed the last step. Lurching forward, I hit the sidewalk hard on both knees and ended up in a ball at the man’s feet. He rushed over and I staggered to my feet, thrusting some coins into his hand.
“Buddy, that’s all I can manage right now,” I said through a haze of pain.
We made eye contact; his were filled with pity.
He gently slid the coins back into my pocket and patted me on the shoulder.
“It’s O.K., lady; you keep it,” he said earnestly, and made his way up the street.
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