Thursday, April 4, 2013

Incident on Boylston Street

            As the third Monday in April approaches, memories always return.
            Amy Dodson and I trundle off to the packet pickup and expo in the Hymes Convention Center around the corner from my hotel. This run is a celebration for Amy. The previous year, 2001, she became the first woman leg amputee to ever run the Boston Marathon.
            We pickup our timing chips, number bib, Boston Marathon tee shirt—a prize for any runner, yellow this year—and a bag of free junk. Then we head into the expo section looking to buy more junk—souvenirs and running stuff. It’s all part of the Boston experience.
            Finally we head off in search of lunch, but first Amy wants to find a grocery store where she can buy some breakfast snacks. I know where one is, half a block away on Boylston, toward the very finish line we’ll both ache for tomorrow.
            A disquieting thing happens as Amy and I enter the grocery store. A young woman with the facial features typical of Down’s syndrome suddenly runs past us out of the store, crying loudly. We stop in some dismay and watch from just inside the store as she flops on a bench facing the crowded walk, still wailing. An elderly black woman stands beside me looking on, wearing a kindly expression of pity.
            “What happened, do you know?” I ask the woman.
            “Naaww,” she says with a soft drawl, like she might have come from the South.   
            “I wonder what it was. I wonder if we can do anything.” We stand there in bafflement and indecision, looking through the store window at the unfortunate woman bawling on the bench.
            “Maybe we can find out,” I say. The old woman and I both turn at the same time and head back outside. She wants to help, too.
            I ask the crying woman if she can tell us what is wrong. The old woman pats her shoulder and talks to her softly. We can’t understand what she is saying. Between sobs we hear something about money—that they had her money? Or wouldn’t give her her money?—we aren’t sure. The woman appears to have a mental disability, but, then, she is here by herself.
            “Let’s go inside and talk to them,” I say. “Maybe we can help you.” We all turn and go back inside the store and find a clerk at the front.
            “This woman has a problem with money—she lost her money or something inside the store,” I say to the clerk—and then to the young woman: “Why don’t you tell the gentleman what happened.” She starts again, her sobs quieter now, talking about “it wouldn’t give her any money.” I think maybe she’s been short-changed or someone took her money. We still don’t understand.
            Trying to tell it again, she points at the ATM. It wouldn’t give her any money, she tells us.
            Now I know.
            “Do you have a card?” I ask. She shakes her head no.
            “You can’t get money out of an ATM unless you have a card,” I say.
            Where can you get a card, she wants to know.
            “You have to go to the bank to get a card,” I say.
            “But the bank is closed,” she says, bleakly. She is correct; today is Sunday. There are no possibilities at all today.
            “Do you need some money to buy something to eat?” I ask.
             “Uh-huh,” she says, nodding.
            I open my wallet and hand her a twenty, expecting her to head to the shelves for food. Instead, she suddenly goes outside again and disappears in the crowd, clutching the twenty-dollar bill in her hand before her.
            Some alert thug probably took it from her before she went a block.
            Amy stands by patiently watching this entire episode. As a former New Yorker, she has a hardened feel for the street. I vaguely wonder if she thinks I’m a dope or a Good Samaritan. She may think I should mind my own business, not go involving myself with strangers, unfortunate or not.
            And I had misgivings, too. I hope Amy is pleased with my attempt at kindness. I suspect that’s the case, for she is a generous soul herself. But I don’t ask her how she feels about it. We quickly dismiss the unpleasant incident, the unlucky woman, chase it from our heads and go on. We’re here to run a race, not cover ourselves in sackcloth and ashes.
            But I still remember the incident vividly—and the pity shown by the old black woman, who, as they say, didn’t have a dog in the fight.