I didn’t take the circuitous routes Dad suggested to my first post-convent job. So men did approach me. They didn’t “hit on” me. They asked for money. I always gave them whatever change or dollar bills I had.
I’d been taught that we could come upon Jesus unawares and not recognize him. In my mind, these men were Jesus. I couldn’t say no.
One day the vice-president of the publishing firm where I worked saw me handing money to a man sitting on the sidewalk, his back against a wall. “Thank you, Ma’am,” the drifter said and smiled. A serene smile over the gaps of missing teeth. Surely Jesus.
I crossed the street to where my employer waited on the corner. “Dee, don’t give these guys money,” he said. “I know how much you make.”
“They might be Jesus.”
I explained. He shook his head. “If you have to give them something, tell them you’ll buy breakfast. They'll never take you up on that. They’re looking for booze money.”
As we passed the café I could see Jesus and myself eating together there. And as time passed, I did have breakfast with several of the men who inhabited the sidewalks, their heads drooping between tented knees. As we ate, they shared their life stories with me. They were down on their luck.
One had a different definition of woman from what I’d learned in the Scholasticate. On the spring day we met, I wore a new dress. Short-sleeved. Bright yellow splotched with white daisies. A narrow belt.
I was standing across from the office, waiting for the light to change. A man in soiled clothes shuffled toward me. His face sported whiskers and dirt. His straggly hair hung against his hunched shoulders. This is Jesus I thought.
I started to dig for coins.
“Ma’am, you’re one mighty fine woman,” he mumbled.
The coins tumbled to the sidewalk. Flustered, I leaned over to pick them up. My thoughts tumbled with them: He’s talking about my figure. This dress is too clingy. My body’s not hidden in black serge. He can see the outline of my bosom. I covered it with my purse.
“Did ya hear what I told ya? One damn fine woman,” he slurred.
The light changed. I started across. He followed.
“One damn fine figure of a woman.”
“Thank you.” I walked faster.
“I’m tellin’ ya the truth, Ma’am. One mighty fine figure.”
I wanted to run, but this was Jesus. He might smell like whiskey, but who says Jesus has to be a teetotaler? He was the most famous brewer of all time. Witness Cana. Who says he has to wear newly laundered clothes? This was Jesus.
“How’d you like some breakfast?” I asked.
I treated him to a meal. Hank was a fine man.
I wasn’t a scout or a seamstress. But I was one fine figure of a woman.
Art and photographs from Wikipedia