This morning I lay in bed thinking of Marie. She stands at the corner of I – 45 and Cullen Boulevard with a cardboard sign that reads “God Bless You.” Her red, freckled face is smudged with dirt, and the Houston heat lashes her neck. I’ve never seen her sweat. She’s probably dehydrated or immune to Houston’s temperamental climate. Whether it’s raining or sunny, she stands at that corner with her God Bless You sign, a toothless grin, and a wave.
The intersection is protected by a traffic signal. Just beyond the corner is a freeway ramp that leads to three major highways. Thousands of cars stop at that light enroute to downtown or the suburbs. On occasion, people roll down their windows and give Marie a quarter or a few dollars. They reward her endurance and thank her for smiling on good days and bad ones.
One day I rolled down my window and gave her the number to a transitional housing program for women. “They’ll help you find a job,” I said.
“No thanks,” she replied. “I don’t like people.”
On another day, Marie told me she likes slushes, so I drove up a block to the gas station and bought her a cherry Icie. I made a U-turn at the frontage road, parked my car under the bridge, and honked my horn like she told me to do whenever I wanted to give her something but couldn’t find her. Sure enough, she hobbled out of the darkness of the underpass and met me with a smile. She took the Icie from me as if she had been expecting it all day.
Sometimes I take an alternate route to avoid Marie. I travel down a street that crosses a train track and leads to the same frontage road opposite of where she stands. I’d rather be delayed by a train than to see her waiting at that corner wondering if I’ll roll down my window or simply wave back. Behind her grin is a permanent look of disappointment.
If she’s lucky, I’ll have a dollar to give her, but I hardly carry cash anymore. If I’m lucky, the light will turn green and I won’t have to stop and look her way.
Marie has children, but I don’t know how many. Her mother died a few years ago, and she’s tried unsuccessfully to recover her social security checks. These are the only facts I know about her personal life. She knows that I drive a green Honda.
Today as I waited on God to reveal a thought to me — one that would convince me to lift the covers and plant my feet on the floor — I realized Marie and I are alike. She has settled into her suffering, cementing herself at the corner of an active intersection where she watches passersby and drivers hustle to their destinations. Everyday she waits for a surprise from a random stranger — a dollar or two, a bag of oranges, tamales, bread from the corner bakery, boiled eggs, and melting Icies. No two days are the same. There are times when she stands in vain. To some folks she’s invisible; others want to help but don’t know how.
I wonder, does God see me as a beggar with my hand outstretched, waiting for an answer? Has God taken an alternate route to avoid seeing me?
Marie has been standing at the same corner for years. Why does she wait so patiently? Does she believe in humanity that much? Haven’t we disappointed her enough?