She was the first person I noticed as I drove into the parking lot of my favorite health food grocery store. I immediately spotted the walker that she used, though she was not actually moving. Instead, she stood still in front of the new mobile phone store, something I thought odd for a woman who was surely deep into her seventies by now. She was slender and Brazil nut dark and had that facade that people sometimes get when they take strong medicine or at least too much medicine. The bags under her eyes were more like huge hammocks, consuming a percentage of her face. She wore a short-cropped black wig and a neat safari pants suit that was appropriate for a September day in Miami, which is not so different from any July or August day.

The next thing I noticed was the two little girls who stood beside her, neither much older than 7. Something told me that that they were not simply on an outing with granny, but that granny was their caretaker. The woman was so much older than the girls that I found myself wondering if she were the grandmother or the great grandmother, considering that many grandparents are much younger these days than they once were. Actually, it was not the girls themselves, but their big hair that initially grabbed my attention. Their braided hairdos were long, very neat, and detailed oriented. Little pink bows were attached here and there to individual braids. It was obvious that they were enjoying their fresh dos because they kept flipping their heads back as if there were some imaginary wind blowing it into their eyes. The girls had smooth brown pecan complexions, and at first sight looked like twins. But, closer inspection revealed a distance in age between them. They both carried little light brown parasols, it seemed, not so much to avoid getting wet in the predicted rain, but for protection from the sun. They were also neatly dressed in matching crisp tops and bottoms and were, though a cliché, as cute as buttons. Well taken care of is what came to my mind. I drove past them, parked the car, got out, and began my trek to the store. Before entering, I looked back and noticed that they were on the move from their rest stop in front of the cellphone store and were making their way to the grocery store.

I was distracted from observing the three when I became annoyed with the fact that the grocery carts had been moved to another location to accommodate the weekly farmer’s market merchants, or at least that’s what I thought.  But when I got to the main entrance of the store, there was a combined autumn and Halloween display occupying the space that the carts usually did. I guess the display creators must have felt proud that I and perhaps other customers smelled the display before actually comprehending its details because the area was filled with smelly hay. The whiff of the hay was overwhelming and distracting, but it didn’t keep me from noticing that the old lady and the girls had beat me to this debauchery for allergy sufferers. I couldn’t help but notice her patiently waiting while the girls bowed down in awe before the scarecrows that were the display’s centerpiece. Her patience gone, she said, “let’s go.”  They immediately obeyed. That was a good thing I thought because I wouldn’t want to be as old and as challenged as she seemed and be responsible for disobedient children. At any rate, they were way too cute to be wayward.

I went on about my business buying the overpriced food and products that gave me the hope of greater health and longevity: organic pasta, vegetarian cheese, exotic sauces. Once I’d finished my privileged shopping and rendered unto Caesar the outrageous prices, I sat and ate a late lunch of eggplant parmesan and topped it off with the most delicious soft ginger cookie ever. I usually eat and then people watch, so there I sat long enough to notice the old lady and the girls exit the store. Now, she pushed her walker and a cart that held two paper shopping bags. She made no request of the girls to assist her. They probably would not have heard her anyway because they were consumed with the same glee and chatter as they had been before entering the store.  As they began to walk in the parking lot, I overheard one of them say as she opened her parasol that she was not going to let the sun get her. I saw the sun chasing her as she ran and giggled.

I watched the family winding its way to the end of the parking lot towards the cellphone store where I’d originally encountered them. Some part of me hoped that they would stop at a car, a Buick maybe, load the groceries, and drive off. But deep down, I knew they wouldn’t. I knew they would slowly make their way through the Miami heat to the closet bus stop and stand in the sun, sweating, waiting for a bus, which is exactly what they appeared to be doing.

As I lost sight of them, I found myself wondering how miserable she must be: aged, on a walker, on medicine, waiting in the hot sun for a bus, responsible for children so young.  I found myself wondering if as a young woman she’d had a more comfortable life, or had her life always been one of struggle only to culminate in more struggle, trying to support the young of the young she’d probably supported but who may have missed the mark with their own young. I found myself wondering that while her choice to protect and provide for the young was, indeed, noble where was her chance, where was her comfort, where was her portion before departing this earth.

-jc

 

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