“Excuse me, I was wondering,” she asked, hesitantly, “Do you know the way to…”

All I could see of her were her lips as they moved, lipstick too loud, with her tongue wagging behind shiny, ever-so-slightly yellowed teeth. I had no idea what she was saying…I heard no sound…and could only think, “Oh, she smokes!”

“Yeah, yeah…um…yeah, sure. Do you have a smoke I could bum?” I hear myself asking. Gawd, how rude can I be?

She digs in her bag amongst the bits of torn paper, loose change, and a hairbrush with too much loose hair stuck in it…and pulls out a crumpled soft-pack of, oh shit, Salems. Ugh, I asked for it, didn’t I? Menthols. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers…isn’t that the saying? She hands me one out of the pack and I notice her short fingernails are painted black with blue glitter before she lights it with a hot-pink disposable lighter. Aaahhh…a long, deep drag of death, and I blow it out long and momentarily satisfied. Oops…straight in her direction. She makes a face at the smoke and I notice her lips are still moving and now she’s pointing to something on a piece of paper pulled from her bag of horrors.

“Uh, sorry. Whaddaya need?” I wish she would just go and ask someone else, but I did take her cigarette.

“The #74. Do you know where I can catch the #74 to the U District?”

I fling my arm in the general direction of the closest entrance to the Bus Tunnel to indicate the way. “Under there.” I say. Then, “Thanks for the smoke.” I take off in the opposite direction before she can rope me into any further assistance, off into the pedestrian traffic, into the October rain.

© 2008 D. Kessler