Most of the morning was spent down at the shopping center. Lazy. Yawning. Smoking. Watching people come to and fro. I noticed Clara busily panhandling. People would escape the grocery store only to get caught in her web. I never could panhandle. My social anxieties would prevent me. It was too much like being a door to door salesperson except your customers come to you.
"Doesn't that embarrass you?" I asked her during a lull.
"I gotta do what I gotta do to eat," she said.
You gotta do what you gotta do to drink, I thought flippantly. I would watch her garner about five dollars and go in and buy a bottle of Boone's Farm wine. The cheap stuff. $2 dollars a bottle.
Clara finally tired of panhandling when she had generated enough money. She came and sat beside me -- her wine hidden in a brown paper bag within her backpack as she would take drinks.
"Is that chick that is always with you your wife?" she asked.
"We look like we are married, don't we?" I said with a laugh. Flattered that someone would think such a thing.
"She's protective of you."
"Where not married," I replied. "But it feels like it some days."
"George says she was once homeless in Atlanta."
"Yep," I replied. "I would rather you talk to her about it though. She can tell you some interesting stories."
A quiet moment overcame us as Clara sat drinking that swill. She looked deep in thought. Her hair amiss like some wild child. I could see a thousand tales in her weathered face. I wondered what had happened in life to bring her to live like this.
"You're creepy like some child molester," Clara finally said brusquely as she got up to take another bench up by the grocery store. "You're too friendly." It caught me by surprise the way she turned on me. I realize that such a thing is normal for dealing with a homeless lady who spends her days panhandling and drunk. I wanted to tell her that she wasn't exactly out of the pages of Good Housekeeping either. Some friendships are just never meant to be. I left the shopping center with lunch and Clara on my mind as I walked to Rosa's house to get my car. Gotta do what you gotta do to survive, I thought of living on the streets. It would take more than casual conversation and the occasional breakfast to win over my new homeless friend.