By Sonny Marks
It happened at a gas station, and again at another gas station. The first time was in December, early evening, on my drive home from work. The temperature was in the low 50s, which is cold in southern Louisiana. When I went to pay at the window, I saw a woman crying nearby, loudly. No one was with her, so she wasn’t crying towards anyone, nor was she speaking. Had she asked me for money, it might have felt familiar. Instead, I felt fear.
What was I was afraid of? She was smaller than I and did not appear to be a threat. She did not seem deranged. She appeared to be in distress, so I didn’t approach her. My panic eased and was replaced by the need to get out of the cold, and back home. I’m generally on a schedule when I’m driving, even when it is nobody’s schedule but mine. I tend to promise myself to be more flexible and available when I retire. No other customer approached the woman while I was waiting for the gas to fill my car.
The woman wore a thin jacket, head wrap and sweat pants. She was black; I am white. When I drove off, she walked away, seemingly in search of something in the parking lot of the nearby big-box store.
That night was the Monday leading to Christmas. The image of the woman stayed with me throughout the week. I should have said something to her. “What’s the matter?” would have fit. “Can I help you?” would’ve been better. But the situation was unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and I stayed away.
People in pain don’t appear according to my timetable, wrapped in a bow.
Was she Christ?
I kept thinking of this woman five days later, on Christmas Eve, when I was at another gas station. My wife drove to the pump, where we parked behind a shiny white German car, considerably nicer than our dented mid-sized sedan. The temperature was in the mid 30s. The driver ahead of us sat in her car while the pump filled her tank. I went inside to pay. As I walked out, the driver ahead of us passed me on the way into the store. But she didn’t move her car after she finished pumping so that we could start pumping our gas. I waited outside by the pump, in the cold wind, until she returned. I could have waited in my car where my indignation would not have been on display.
The longer I waited, the madder I got. Dressed in all white, she finally left the store. She was black; I am white. She passed me without saying anything. She didn’t meet my eyes, but I didn’t sense any shame from her at all. She got in her car and drove away, yielding her pump. My right hand wanted to give her the middle finger.
Was she Christ?
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Sonny Marks lives in Louisiana. He practices law during the week and plays tennis on Saturday mornings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.