"I don't have cash on me," I say to her. This is a lie. I have twenty-two dollars and change, but since I just barely squeaked into being able to pay December's rent I'm not feeling generous to passing out cash. A twenty is insincerely generous, I think, and I need the two dollars for the bus. "Could I buy you something on a card?"
"I've already had dinner," she says.
"Well, maybe something else," I offer. "Toiletries? Cleaning products?"
"They sell gift cards in there," she says. "You can even use them at Starbucks. The minimum amount you can put on it is $1.50. Any amount would be fine."
I think I can do that for her, and make to go into the store when someone shouts my name. I look over by the trash can where a girl puts down a bag of cheetos she was picking out of on the rim, and then offers out her left hand for a shake.
"I forgot how to say your name. Did I say it right?"
She hadn't, but I think it's considerate she asked. She's not a friend. Well, she's close enough to be a facebook friend, but not someone I have been hanging out with. A few years ago we often bumped into each other at the same parties, then drifted into different cirlces for awhile. I've only recently drifted back, so I ask if she lives around here.
"I live over in Shoreline," she says. She has a stack of newspapers under her arm. "The vendor who's usually here texted me today to say that he couldn't make it so I could have his spot for the day. I got here this morning around 9."
I look at the newspaper she's selling. It's one of my favorite in Seattle, and I haven't bought this week's copy yet, but I don't buy one since I told the other woman I don't have cash. But I'm surprised. She's selling Real Change, the regional street sheet put out by homeless. While I'm not sure if one has to be homelessto sell it, it's generally the second to the last step down to destitution, or the first one up depending on direction.
I look at the paper but am too confused to take in the cover or what she's telling me. All I can think about is that she's been out here since 9 in a hoodie, it's been raining since noon, and it's now almost 5:30.
"Do you have an umbrella?" I say. Do you have a dry place to sleep tonight is really what I want to ask, but in one of those daily acts of cowardice, I leave this unsaid.
"Yeah, I gave it to her," she says, pointing at the other woman, "and I got another one that's kinda busted." She looks next to the trash to a black umbrella with a bent spoke.
We make some slight pleasant talk, just enough for me to hear when and if she'll be back there so I won't be so emotionally unprepared next time. I did have to leave, not just to buy a gift card, but also to meet with the renter I would be subletting from for December. When I came out of the grocery store with a gift card for the woman with the pink umbrella, the girl was still there, though I didn't buy a newspaper. I didn't want my concern to come across as the pity it really was.
You don't think you'll see your friends on the streets, even your facebook friends.