Yesterday morning I went for a run along the Vltava River in Prague. It was an early Sunday morning for me and a late Saturday night for a number of others along the river. On my way back to the apartment I passed a tram stop. An old woman was holding on to the bench, her ass in the air and her face bent close enough to kiss the cold metal bench. On the ground, one of her black wedges. She was hanging on and swaying. I thought I could help her sit on the ground, or maybe lay down until she sobered.
We didn’t share a language. We barely shared a consciousness. She was wasted. She wore cheap sweats and a tee-shirt, an old cardigan over top. Her hair dyed yellow and her skin tanned orange. Her fingernails and toenails were painted hot pink. One of her toes was cut where her shoe had rubbed. The soles of her feet were filthy.
She had giant eyes, the lightest blue irises. I spoke to her gently. I patted the ground. She started to sit, tipped and banged her head on the glass shelter. She moaned. She started snoring. I wondered if I should finish what I started, to make her more comfortable and safe until she sobered. I saw a man watching us from across the way. I felt like an idiot, kneeling and rubbing this woman’s back and whispering, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” She looked up at me with those giant eyes, tears dropping.
That’s why we don’t go close. Really.
I spent maybe ten or fifteen minutes with this woman. I finally left her in much the same way I found her.
Later, I saw another person we don’t go near. I saw a young man on his knees, forehead to the ground, his hat turned up in front of him. He blocked part of a walkway, the current of tourists stepping around this stone of a man. I was out with my family and told Justin to wait. I watched this man. He took a few coins from his hat, pocketed them, put the hat back, his head to the ground.
Not even playing an old violin.
I watched him a moment longer. I wondered why he was here. Sometimes I strip the adult away and wonder who a person was as a child. I always want them to be loved as a child. I want them to have kisses on the forehead and hugs. I want them to have a mother and father waiting.
I took a coin and knelt. “Here,” I said.
He turned his head, startled, scabs on his face. “I no English,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. Something turned inside me. I want a better language.
He nodded, turned his face back to the ground. I went to Justin. I said to him, “I have to stop doing that.”
“What?” Justin said.
It isn’t enough. That man with scabs on his face. He probably picks them when he’s high. And I give him a coin. He suffers under a weight I can’t see and I speak to him in English. If that same young man were standing, he’d be a grungy backpacker on summer break, bunking in hostels and eating street food in the shadow of cathedrals. I saw a woman take a photo of him, like he was something to show people back home.
Some people have so much nothing they prostrate themselves and don’t look up when coins fall.
Enough is a hard measure.