I saw her again last night—the old raving woman with the girlish pigtails, trailing bin bags behind her that were visibly overflowing with knickknacks. This time, instead of yelling at me, she targeted my dog. “You evil man,” she told him, “I know what you did!” Her eyes didn’t leave him, even when he started growling at her through clenched teeth. “You think you can get away with it, but I know your kind. I know all about your filthy habits!”
A local celebrity, I’m told the old raving woman has long been a unique character. Back when she was just a girl, apparently, Cherri always had a toothpick in her mouth. She would sip on it like most people sip on a straw. “You better stop that nasty habit,” her mom would say, “or you’ll be as wrinkled as granny by the time you turn 21.” Cherri didn’t care, though, because she knew just how old her soul really was. She knew that she had already experienced more than most grannies ever had. And no matter how old she would get, no matter how many wrinkles she would have, she knew she would always be a free woman. Free to make her own choices, within the parameters the world provided. Free to wear the same girlish hairstyle, for example. Her curly black hair divided into pigtails, the color of the hair ties matching the color of her top.
Cherri spent her youth strolling Sunset Boulevard, avoiding home at all costs. Avoiding her brother, avoiding her father. The neighborhood folks warned her about her vagrant tendencies. They told her to watch out for the bogeyman, who was bound to take her away one of these days. But that’s because they didn’t know what life was like for her in the confines of her family’s house. Cherri knew she was much safer out on the open streets, where everyone could see her. Plus, they needed her, all the other wandering souls. What would Wilfredo eat if she didn’t bring him the usual discarded pastries from Food for Less? And what about Sweet Morgan, how would she sell her bootleg cigarettes if Cherri didn’t watch over her kids for an hour at sundown? There was no point suffering at home when she could lose herself in the joys and challenges of being of service to others.
Truth be told, I sometimes avoid the part of Sunset Boulevard where I am bound to bump into the old raving woman with the girlish pigtails. Some days, I just don’t have the energy to deal with her piercing dark eyes, and her anger-filled ranting. But I can never put our encounters off for too long. It seems that, despite all her imperfections, she has a magnetic charm that calls out to me in the same way that the streets have been calling out to her her whole life.
The game: you give Nina ([email protected]) a Buddhist-themed noun, an action, and a location, and I create the story. Today, she was given the noun “service,” the action “to sip,” and a location “sunset.”