The shop was crowded. It was half price day. People milled about, talking with excited voices and rifling through racks of clothing and clattering with the bric-a-brac. The furniture section was not included in the sale, although the manager would make deals here and there - ten or fifteen percent off, depending on how long the piece had been on the floor. Some were slower to 'move' than others. Most of the living, dining and bedroom sets were beautiful. Once in a while there would be something that rivaled the Castle of Versailles in fancy trims, gold curlicues and super generous size. Today, as usual, there were the lazy-boys, comfortable dark leather caves you could sink into and forget all your troubles and aches and pains.
I had already checked out a few odds and ends, mostly books and was walking toward the exit. It was an electric moment though, since a very large group of furniture was in the ready to be taken out the wide double doors. A truck was waiting outside as the men prepared to wheel out a bed frame, a giant credenza, and some other pieces which were further back and I could not see. I stood aside, not wanting to get in the path of this intense drama and perhaps hurt myself in the process. Nor did I care to have any of the men yell at me to get out of their path. This store was in an area that few people want to live in and some don't even care to visit, due to many street people and dilapidated buildings. This was no place to make a scene or get in the way of anything that was going on. As I stood aside, hugging the racks of blouses behind me, I saw her.
She stared at me, or rather looked into my face without seeming to look. Her eyes were blank. She was large, young, plain looking. Her hair was close cropped and she wore a very large T-shirt and stretch pants of a nondescript color and style. She sat in one of the nice lazy-boys and seemed to be frozen in time, as if she would not move out of it, no matter what. Yet, there was an awareness of sorts - I was sure she knew her time was limited. You can not sit in places like that very long before a manager or employee would say or do something. I somehow felt that this was the highlight of her day. Why, of all the people in that store on that busy afternoon, did her gaze seem so noteworthy to me?
The furniture moving was finally over. The path to the front door clear now, I made my way out and gave a quarter to the wizened old salt that always held the door open and gave a warm "God bless you" for any tip, small or large, or none at all. Then I was off to the other thrift shop, right across the street. Both had wonderful books, clothes , paintings, furniture and various other items that would delight many a collector. Although here and there a person would be sitting on the sidewalk with large, black plastic bags or with an overburdened old shopping cart, many who shopped these stores drove up in Jaguars, Beemers and other expensive cars. They could not resist a bargain, either.
The ramp by the other shop had an uneven edge and I almost tripped, but caught my balance quickly. Nothing but concrete in the vicinity, it would have been a nasty fall. If nothing broke, at least I would have got some nasty scrapes. I quickly forgot that close call, but did thank the angels for holding me up as they have done all my life, whether I knew it or not.
After a relaxing and fun time of browsing through this much larger, less bright, but most tranquil store, I checked out after some friendly banter with the jovial clerk, I decided to head South instead of my usual route toward the bus, which was straight East. Maybe this would cut my walking distance some and the weather looked like it would storm soon. I had forgotten another time I had tried that route - finding people lying on the street here and there and trying to avoid them, I had walked in the middle of the street. This area had no street traffic to speak of and a lone car would once in a while drive by, usually with dark tinted windows and definitely 'passing through.'
But it was too late to change my mind. Besides, another very large and also young woman was walking ahead of me, also going South. This woman was wearing clothes that seemed more distinct, with a little bit of style. There were some patterns to the blouse and pants, reminding me of a kind of Bohemian look. Yet, the bottoms of the pants were badly frayed and she walked with a gait that appeared slow, dragging and if not sad, at least resigned to her lot, whatever it was. I wondered how hard it was for her to bend down and tie her shoes, to wash herself, for she was very heavy. There was a comforting presence about her and I felt safe being in close proximity of her. I walked slowly, not wanting to overtake her. I let my instincts guide me when I am in unsure territory.
We approached the cross street of this once known as a warehouse and industrial district. The streets and buildings were wide, voluminous and impersonal. An existentialist painter would find a hundred scenes to paint here, a thousand 'angst' type impressions to ponder. But this place was very real to its current inhabitants. There was no art, no hope, no illusion here. There was an atmosphere of a silent ghostly pressure that kept anyone or anything from changing, moving away, getting better. It was acceptance at its most basic level. While thinking of all kinds of things as I do when not in my usual routines and places, my musings suddenly came to a grinding halt. The woman in front of me turned to the right at this cross street and headed toward a pile of things on the sidewalk. There was somebody lying about twenty feet away to the right of this pile.
She headed for her little spot of pavement. She was homeless. She was young. She had picked clothes that were just a tiny bit nicer than just covering a body. I turned left and headed toward my bus stop about seven blocks away. It didn't dawn on me until I sat on the bus with people on their way home from work, tourists heading for the beaches, and various riders chatting in foreign languages. They all had lives, goals, places to go, and if nothing else, bus fare. In the morning I had been concerned that I needed to get some milk and eggs for my usual breakfast. Now, however, I felt totally in a different space. Now milk, eggs, clothes, shopping did not seem to mean very much. All I could think of was that young woman with just a little bit of style, would be lying there on the street. And the other woman who sat in the lazy-boy would probably have another pile on some other street.
These thrift shops were a haven, a moment of glory and peace for these people. For me, they had been just a place to get nice things for a good price. As of today, however, that area is much more to me than it ever was. Those two young women didn't know it, but they gave me the gift of gratitude beyond anything I could ever imagine. Thank God for his blessings, thank God for people. God, be good to them, all of them, on the byways of life.