She looked around and saw that the chairs on either side of her were occupied by men. White men. The smell flooding her nostrils were a good indication that these men had not showered in days, if not weeks. Sometimes she wished her people in Ghana could witness this kind of white man, then maybe they wouldn’t worship the white man so much. She glanced over again. She dared not make eye contact. Matted hair and grimy looking clothing expanded the narrative. The numerous and assorted collection of grocery bags, paper and plastic, all somehow defying their original capacity requirements sealed the deal.
She struggled not to wrinkle her nose even though this was futile because it seemed the only reflex action to such stench. She was highly educated and very socialized to be aware. She knew all the rational reasons why and how some people got to this place and she had long since given up on pity because it served neither her nor them. Guilt was still worming its way out. She was Catholic after all. She’d heard that sometimes this one took a lifetime. She was content to be seen as WIP (Work in Progress). So she sat still, fighting the self-wrinkling nostrils and analyzing her situation.
So not pity or guilt…but…yep! Panic! Was it possible for her to get to this place? Was it possible for her to be homeless? The only difference between her and these two white men on either side of her was the little money she had in the bank. The only reason she was able to leave her ‘bags’ with the Bellman at the Hotel Whitcombe was because she was smartly dressed and had stayed there a few nights prior. The man next to her could not have just waltzed in the way she did and dropped off his shopping cart while he went to enjoy a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks. He couldn’t have casually left his ‘bags’ for safekeeping and be freed from its stigma for a few hours. The difference between she and him was her appearance, her confidence, and the dollar bill she thrust enthusiastically into the Bellman’s palms as she arrived to collect her bright red Polo suitcase. Or was this the difference?
If she had to lug around all three of her bags all day, would people assume her situation or story? Would they judge her? Treat her differently? She had spent much of the day hugging her two bags close as she sat in one of those bucket chairs at the mall and later as she perched on a high chair at the Starbucks counter nursing her overpriced Macchiato. The barista there had eyed her as if to say: “I know your kind!” She eyed him back daring him to make a comment. The difference between her and those white men was the $4 it cost her for that drink and her laptop which she pored over so furiously searching for places to live. This created a barrier that allowed her to pose as not homeless. This gave her a voice and allowed her to stare him back in the eye.
But in reality, for how long? Without a job and a steady income, the money in the bank could be gone and then where would she stand? Food for thought.