A Library Experience

(previously published over at Blogger….)

It was a quiet night at the public library; most of the patrons had finished their homework and left their book browsing for the evening.  Cece turned the corner into the children’s world of the library not knowing if she should be there or not, but needing help.  The security guard had his camera monitors and knew all things about all rooms of this big library, and she accepted the fact that he’d be watching her tonight.  Still, she went ahead looking for someone who could read.

Faye was sitting at the first table in the children’s department with her little daughter and her little Dell, clicking clicking clicking out her emails to family and friends while Millie finished her homework.  Andrew was upstairs with the computers printing out some papers for school, and Lee had social studies to do somewhere else.  Her husband Greg and his son Greg Jr. were also at the library that evening, busy with their reading and writing and arithmetic.  It was just one big happy family outing!

Sitting near the entrance like this, Faye was able to see and be seen if any of her family tried to find her and Millie.  And she was quickly spotted by Cece. Apprehensive at first, she walked past the table, then turned around and walked up to Faye sitting at the table.  Cece was dressed warmly with her dark blue winter jacket and stocking cap, and her eyes were clear and hopeful as she approached.

“Do you know how to find places?” she asked, looking meaningfully at Faye’s computer.

“Sure,” Faye replied.  “Do you need mapquest?”  She gently slid her computer over to where Cece was sitting so she could look up the address which was written on a piece of paper in her hand.

“Oh no,” Cece said quietly.  “I can’t read this.  The man at the desk wrote it down for me, but I need to know how many blocks it is to get there.”

She showed the piece of paper to Faye, and then very quietly said each of the letters on the piece of paper.  The large block letters spelled out the name and address and phone number of a women’s homeless shelter on  the 4700 block of Sheridan Road, the very northern edge of Chicago’s city limits.  Faye looked into Cece’s face wondering.  “This is very far away.  This is way up on the north side.  We are here,” and Faye showed Cece the map on the computer screen.  “Can you read maps?  Look here’s where we are and here’s the shelter.  It’s so far away.”

And Cece explained her situation to Faye, in a matter-of-fact sort of way.  She had tried to go to the P.A.D.S. shelter there in Oak Park, but they wouldn’t let her stay because she didn’t have an ID and didn’t have $2.75 to pay for a cushion to put down on the floor.  “I don’t have an address,” she said.  “How can I have an ID when I’m homeless.  This place at this address is open twenty-four hours a day; I can walk there and be there by mid-morning.  I just need to know how many blocks it is.”

Faye shook her head.  How could she explain to this woman who looked just like any other woman sitting at the library that evening that this address was way too far to walk?  Was it even possible to walk there if a person knew how to read?  How could this woman possibly get there?  Her mind turned over the options that might be available.  She could offer to drive her to the shelter — in the car, it would only take 45 minutes, an hour at the most.  While she was weighing that, how to work it all out to help this quiet woman who didn’t look homeless except that she was missing a few teeth, she and the woman made small talk.  Cece asked about her daughter and how many kids did Faye have.  She loved Millie’s name and her eyes and commented that they were the same color as Faye’s.

Faye silently marveled at Cece.  She just seemed like an old friend, sitting there at the library table together, just getting caught up on all the things in their lives.  Cece started to get up, saying that she had better get going as they didn’t really allow her into the library and she should really be going.  Faye reached into her purse, looking for some money to give the woman.  She came up with a handful of change and put it into Cece’s hand.  “It’s all I have in my purse,” she said. “But I’ll go find my husband and get a dollar from him.”  Cece protested mildly, “Is he mean?” she asked.  “I don’t want you to get into trouble.  I don’t anyone to know I’m homeless, you know.”

“No,” said Faye, “It’s OK.  I’ll be right back.” And she got up from the table and started walking to the lounge area where Greg was probably reading.

“Wait,”  Cece called quietly.  “You can’t just leave your computer like that on the table.”

Faye turned around, and sure enough Millie was right behind her and the computer and all of their papers were still on the table and little kids were already started to gather around the little Dell as if they’d found a bag of candy corn to share around.

Smiling sheepishly, Faye turned back to the table.  “Oh, you’re right,” she said and started to gather up her stuff even though Greg was less than 100 yards away.  Faye was from the suburbs (even from the country if you go way back), still not used to the idea that anyone would steal anything just as quickly as you blink your eye, and kids will be kids and play with other people’s computers here in the library.

Just then, Andrew walked into the children’s department and saw Faye right away. “Hi Mom,” he said.  “I’m all done; ready to go?”

“Andy, do you have a dollar?”  Faye knew that Andrew always had a wallet with cash and a heart bigger than all of the suburbs put together.

“Sure, Mom,” and he pulled out his wallet and gave her a dollar with a question mark on his face.

“Thanks, dear. I’m giving it to that lady over there.”  Faye took the bill and waited for Cece to finish looking at the tropical fish aquarium set in the wall.  She was visiting with some little boys about the large fish.  Her backpack was full, but it didn’t look very heavy, sitting there on the floor next to her; she was smiling and enjoying the library and the children and the fish.  Faye waited.

When Cece came over to her, Faye put the dollar into her hand.  “What’s your name?” she asked.

“You can call me ‘Cece’,” she smiled thankfully, stuffing the money into her pocket with the change.

Knowing that time was slipping away quickly, Faye looked into Cece’s eyes, and said quietly, “I’ll be praying for you, Cece.”

“Thank you,” she replied.  “Just pray that He’ll keep me safe, that’s all. Thank you.”  She shouldered her backpack and started for the entrance.  Looking over her shoulder, she called quietly, “I’m so bad with names!  What was your name again?”  Faye told her.  They smiled and laughed, saying goodbye to each other at the intersection of suburban and homeless reality.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ptcakes
    May 26, 2011 @ 21:00:08

    Very nice. Thought provoking.


  2. ptcakes
    May 27, 2011 @ 17:24:08

    Oh yes, very much so, unfortunately.


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