Walkin’ Down Main Street

Walkin’ Down Main Street

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Walkin’ Down Main Street

Lives based on having are less free than lives based on doing or being.

E. Y. Harburg

The first time I saw Annie, she was huddled in the doorway of an abandoned building. She looked like a statue. Wrapped in her rubber raincoat, she stood out due to the bright orange color of her coat. Piles of garbage bags surrounded her as she sat on a sleeping bag. She stared at me and with one bony finger motioned to me to come.

I’d heard about Annie from my staff. They told me she was mute, so no one tried to communicate with her. Why was she beckoning to me?

I held a bag of warm blueberry muffins, dripping in butter, and a hot chocolate. Would she be interested? I wondered and stepped across the street.

“Hi, my name is Shirley. What’s yours?” I asked as I stuck my hand out in front of her. “Are you interested in a blueberry muffin and some hot chocolate?”

Noticing there was room on her sleeping bag for another person, I sat beside Annie. As soon as I was seated, she snatched the bag of muffins, pulled one out, and began to eat. I held the hot chocolate until she was ready.

Stumbling right into the conversation, I told her my purpose for being in Pioneer Square.

“Annie, I’m an outreach worker, and I walk the streets in the Square, searching for people who need help. I work for a place called Safe House, but I also want to introduce you to a good friend of mine.”

She only grumbled as I talked. I reached over and patted her hand, letting her know I wasn’t talking to hear my own words. She turned her head toward me and pulled her raincoat hood back on her head. Smiling through jagged teeth, she looked at me straight on.

“Good day t’ya!” she spoke.

Laughing, I exclaimed, “Oh boy, people told me you could not speak!”

She grinned and nodded her head. “I speaks to who I want!”

Each day in the following weeks, I brought Annie a muffin and a hot chocolate. We would sit and talk for a few minutes before I left her to walk up the hill to work.

One morning she asked me, “How come you always tellin’ me stories about God?”

“I didn’t figure I had anything to lose, y’know. By the way, Annie, I want you to keep this little cross. I carry it in my pocket all the time to remind me of Jesus. You keep it. I think it glows in the dark!”

She wrapped her thin fingers around the cross, and then looked at me, and nodded. When I looked at Annie, I saw her wrinkled skin, her unwashed hands, and thought of her as someone’s child. I don’t know how she happened to live on the street.

After a few minutes of talking, I stood to say good-bye. It had become a ritual now, to go through this last-minute dialogue. I’d say, “Well, Annie, it’s time for me to go to work, but if you happen to not be in this place tomorrow, I’ll just look up Main Street and know that Jesus came a walkin’ here to get you. And he will have called your name!”

“Right y’are.”

For the next few weeks, I kept up the same routine. A muffin, a hug, and a cup of hot chocolate. She told me about street life in Pioneer Square. I shared with her about God.

One morning, as I was about to leave, she grabbed my arm.

“Wait. I’ll say it today.” She grinned.

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I said, “Okay, Annie.”

Grinning at me through her broken teeth, she said, “We share a secret, you and I, don’t we?”

Annie leaned forward, and with one bony finger she pointed up the street. “One day, Jesus is gonna walk right down Main Street up there, and he gonna call me name.” She pointed at herself and smiled. A beautiful smile.

“Oh, Annie, yes, he is going to do that for sure, and what’s better than that, he will take you home!”

“Yep! That he will, that he will!”

Annie looked away, caught up in some faraway dream.

“See ya tomorrow, Annie.” I waved and walked up the hill to work.

“See ya tomorrow,” she repeated.

In the following days, a heavy snowstorm fell on the Seattle area. Roads were blocked, stores were closed, and not too many street people ventured outside. I took the bus downtown as usual. It was a slower ride, but the metro was still running. It took me longer to walk down the hill where Annie’s building was located. People had flocked into the muffin shop for their coffee, and I had to wait even longer than expected.

I was about to pay for the muffins when the owner placed his hand on my arm. “I have something to tell you about your bag lady.”

He told me an emergency ambulance picked her up last night on the street corner. She had been mugged and beaten. He added that Annie didn’t survive. “I’m sorry,” he said. “She died right there on the street. I was there, and I kept something of hers. Is it yours? If so, I thought you might like to have it.”

He placed the little plastic cross in my hand. Stunned, I could neither cry nor comment. I said thank you and slowly walked across the street.

I stood where Annie had spent her last days, and noticed her sleeping bag stuffed into the trashcan by the street. Now, the tears fell. “Oh, Annie, I will miss you,” I cried.

An old man sat on a bench close by, trying to keep warm under layers of newspapers. He saw me standing in the doorway. “Hey, c’mere,” he yelled. Walking out to the edge of the street, I stopped and looked at the old man. “Did you know her?” I asked.

“Who, Annie? Yeah. She tol’ me about you. Wasn’t noth-in’ anyone could do. But, I heard her say something after the thugs left.”

“What . . . what was that?”

“Strange, but she kept sayin', ‘There he comes. Right down Main Street!’”

I looked up the street and I knew. She’s okay now.

I pulled the sleeping bag out of the garbage can and wrapped it around the old man. He smiled as if I’d given him a special present.

“Would you . . . would you like a muffin and a cup of hot chocolate?”

He nodded and flashed a toothless grin. I gave him the sack, then walked away. Before I crossed the street, I paused and looked up the street toward the business section of downtown.

“Well, Annie, I guess Jesus came a walkin’ down the street last night. Wish I could have been here to hear him call your name!”

Shirley A. Reynolds

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