The cold, rainy day penetrated deeply into the body and soul of all Bostonians who endured it. Like so many others, the man walked, umbrella in hand through the courthouse plaza. His Aldo shoes traipsed through the small puddles that coalesced in the cracks of the pavers and mortar. He had his backpack which contained his laptop and a few journals slung over one shoulder, his coffee cup was in the other hand. Walking briskly he glanced over, didn’t want to, but glanced over nonetheless at the weathered woman that lay against the granite wall, covered in a recycled wool blanket, huddled against the cold. Something moved beneath the blanket and the man wondered if it were a dog or a child. Given the age of the woman, the man believed it to be a dog. For a moment as brief as a breath, he wondered how she had come to sleep along the building. Curious about how someone goes down a road that their entire life is now that of a homeless woman, simply existing. Beside her was a flask of some type in a paper bag. The man scoffed and rolled his eyes. It was clear to him that no one cared to help the woman or felt they could, and as sad as it was, it was reality.
No sooner had the thought entered his mind, it was gone again. The man’s phone vibrated on his hip, he holstered his coffee cup in a compartment on his backpack and pulled out his phone. It was a text message from his wife, “Next time you get the children ready for school, make sure you give them mittens. Be a father.”
Their relations had been tenuous for the past year and his blood boiled at the statement his wife had just texted. He began texting her back an appropriate response as he stepped onto a crosswalk at New Chardon Street. Halfway through “How dare you accu…” he heard a sliding sound and a sharp pain hit him in the left leg. Looking up at the bumper that had just collided with him, his iPhone went flying into the air as the rest of his body hit the hood of the car with full force. The entire event took place in a second, but all seemed to move in slow motion. The man saw his backpack flying into the air and falling toward the passenger side of the car as his own body rolled off the hood and in front of the car. He stared up at the pointed roof of the courthouse as it loomed over him and raindrops magnified like saucers, hit his eyeball. The man couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream. He lost consciousness.
All was black.
His lungs were forced full of air and the air escaped. Again, his lungs forced themselves to expand and exhaled. His chest hurt with each forced breath. Vaguely he felt pressure on his chest as something pressed hard against him. A muffled woman’s voice yelled “Call 911!”
The man could hear another man say “I didn’t see him. Oh, God! Why didn’t he see me?”
More pressure on his chest, it hurt. All was still black. Fingers against his throat, he coughed and breathed a little on his own. “Shhh, stay still.” the woman said softly into his ear, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.”
The man felt his head lifted a little and something soft was laid beneath it. My coat? “Can you hear me? What is your name?” she asked.
“Alan.” he said weakly, his vision still black.
“I’m Ally. I’ll stay right here with you.” Despite the fact that Alan couldn’t feel anything but pain in most of his body, he could make out the warm hand holding his. The darkness consumed him and he was unconscious again.
His vision still black, a voice faded back in, “Alan, you have to stay with me. The paramedics will be here in a moment.” Now he could smell something. Rubbing alcohol? Vodka? People were talking all around him but he saw no faces, only heard Ally clearly. Time was fragmented. Suddenly he was on a gurney in an ambulance. His vision faded in and a man was administering an IV into his hand.
“Stay still, we’re on our way to MGH.”
Alan blacked out again.
Opening his eyes, bright, blurry light pierced his vision and he closed his eyes again. “…severe concussion. The damage to his leg is severe. We need to get him in for surgery as soon…” someone said and once again he faded into the unconscious depths of the dead ocean.
Much later, Alan awoke in a hospital room, his head pounding and his chest and leg on fire. He slowly looked to the right and left and saw his wife on an iPad next to his bed. It was dark outside his window. “What happened?” he asked weakly.
She looked up, mild concern on her face. “A car hit you as you crossed the street. You need to pay attention.”
“I don’t know. Someone that helped me at the accident.”
“I have no idea.” she replied “I’m going to go get Stephen and Cindy. They’re in the waiting room.”
She got up and left. A moment later Alan saw an unkempt old woman in a worn grey sweatshirt come into the room. She seemed vaguely familiar. It took a moment, but Alan finally recognized her, the homeless woman in the blankets by the courthouse. “How are you feeling?” she asked in the same soft voice he had heard at the accident.
He knew her right away by her voice. “Ally?” he asked.
“You, you helped me,” Alan said as a doctor walked into the room.
“Actually, she saved you.” the doctor said. “Ally here gave you CPR until the paramedics arrived.”
A tear rolled down Alan’s face. “I don’t know what to say.” he stammered.
She walked over to his bed and patted his hand. “Just take care of your family. That’s thanks enough.” the woman turned and walked toward the door. At the door, she paused, turned back for a moment “and for God’s sake, stay off your phone when you’re walking.”
Weeks later, Alan was again, walking through the courthouse, this time with a cane. He saw Ally sitting, huddled in the cold and he stopped. He walked over to her and sat down beside her. Half asleep, she awoke and looked at him and smiled “Alan.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder and handed her his fresh cup of coffee. “Can I help you find someplace warm to stay?”
“No. Thank you. Jack isn’t allowed in a shelter and I won’t part with him.” She lifted the wool blanket to show a scruffy mutt underneath.
Alan smiled and said “Okay.” He looked around at all the people going back and forth, doing their ‘busy’ work. A few people glanced at him and Ally on the side of the courthouse, but no one looked for long. “Ally, with all these people going about, when I got hurt, it was you who came to help me. Why?”
“You needed me, and I was here.” she smiled.
Alan slowly nodded. “Yes, you were. I promise to stop and talk to you every day from now on. If you ever need a meal or something to drink, let me know.” and he hugged her.
If you know someone that is homeless or to help the homeless in Boston, go to: http://mahomeless.org/get-help
For homeless assistance in other areas of the United States, go to: http://nationalhomeless.org/