I still see her around town now and then, even though it's been seventeen years since she used to come into my store every day. I nick-named her Heidi-Marie.
“I used to work at the Heidi-Marie Restaurant on Main Street I was their very best dishwasher he wouldn't fix the automatic dishwasher it leaked water all over the floor every time I'd have to mop it all by myself they always made me mop it all up there was lots of water all over the floor can't have that someone will slip so they make me mop it up..."
It was hard to listen to her. She talked in one long ramble of a rant about the injustices done her. Her words peppering you like BBs, not enough to make an impact, but incessant and continuous. Gnarled, arthritic hands wrapped around the handle of the well-used baby stroller in a grip of white-knuckling possession. A leathered face showed the years of hard living, her long, grey hair mostly hidden by a faded, flowered scarf tied carefully under her chin. She'd shuffle in, dragging her bad leg, and limping. Those tired feet clad in ripped hose, the edema of her pain making her flesh seem to ooze out between the straps of her sandals.
“I hurt my leg when the car tried to run over me he didn't stop he just kept driving and now it hurts and they won't let me go to the doctors because they don't like me and I just want some medicine because I hurt my leg when they tried to run over me and he didn't...”
Stop. I just want her to stop. I've heard her stories every day. I can't convince her that we don't sell bread at this liquor store.
“I used to come in here every day and Mr. Joe would give me a loaf of bread every day he'd give it to me I'd eat it and then I'd come back tomorrow and he'd give me bread every day where is Mr. Joe and where is my bread? I used to come in here...”
Business at a liquor store is mostly done in the afternoon and evenings. During the day you stock, straighten the bottles on the shelves, vacuum and bag ice. Or you're stuck at the register talking to Heidi-Marie. Since not many customers come in, it's hard to say, “I'm sorry. I'm busy here. I don't have time to talk to you right now."
I dreaded her coming in. She'd arrive still spouting her staccato at someone who had already left and gone their way, still explaining to them about how no one cares about her. Her baby stroller was filled to overflowing with cans, faded newspapers, ragged, dirty clothes and mate-less shoes. I tried to get her to leave her stroller outside, “You can't bring that in here ma'am. And we don't have any bread. Try next door at the convenience store.”
“I'm just coming in for my bread Mr. Joe gives me bread and I can't leave my treasure outside they'll come take it again they always take my treasure when I'm asleep I can't leave it outside Mr. Joe gives me bread...”
And in she'd come. Sometimes I would try to keep working, but she'd follow me around, her gait ragged, that bad leg lagging behind, and still clutching her precious stroller just to keep telling me about the restaurant, her leg, her son who was going to come pick her up one day, and about the people following her to steal her treasure. I felt bad for her - lonely, homeless, and obviously in pain. Most of the time I stayed at the register, half-listening and just waiting for her to decide that maybe Mr. Joe would be here tomorrow and she'd be coming back then for her bread.
She'd shuffle out, still talking to me, and continue her daily rounds. Broken, lonely, sad, and hungry. And I'd feel guilty for being irritated with her.