I wouldn’t have noticed you.
Not if you’d stayed in the crowd walking east on Madison, hurrying to the Loop. But you crossed south onto Canal, and into the morning shadows. You didn’t notice me, the woman standing in the alley. You were looking up. To the top of Willis Tower. That’s when I stepped from where I watch, to follow.
That other guy, wearing a suit and carrying a leather portfolio, I won’t try him. A lawyer or banker won’t listen. You, though. Casual pants, a bright checkered shirt, lunch in a green cooler bag. You will. And just now, you turned your head to that woman passing by. She’s a little younger than me, but I’ll still catch your eye.
The men and women walking in front, I see the backs of their heads. But the top of yours is what I see as you tilt it again, to look up at the buildings. Your hair is gray and thinning, yet the city’s beauty still fascinates you.
Like the guy I was married to. In the city he saw only the good. In me too. When I would stray he always took me back. He never said it but he liked not knowing where I’d gone. I really wanted to make his world as good as he thought. He left to see if anyone could.
So I’m here. And I’m coming up next to you because this way works better. Because if I was walking towards you, you’d study my eyes, my sweatshirt, my jeans. You might see that I wore them last night, then look past me before I can say…
“Excuse me.” I say it beside you, nicely, like when your wife’s here and asks someone how to get to State Street.
You look over to me with bright eyes, willing to help.
And so I go on, “I need to get to Bolingbrook.”
Still walking, you look forward.
I see you’re not sure about me. I keep up and urge you, “Bolingbrook is far away. I need to take the train. I have to get home.”
You look over at me again, your mouth closed, lips straight.
You don’t like strangers asking for money. But I can convince you I’m not a panhandler. “I came down here yesterday for an interview…at Target.” That makes me different, doesn’t it? That I say I’m looking for a job, at a place you’re familiar with?
You stare forward, still walking.
I’ve got one more line that sometimes works. It’s just for guys. “My ex-boyfriend left me down here.”
You slow your pace and turn your head to me.
My eyes show I’m hurting and desperate. I need a fix.
At Monroe the light turns red. I stop with you.
You look to me and say, “I can’t help you.” Flat and simple as my husband said when he left.
And as you walk east across Canal, I watch the back of your head. You walk, and as far as I can see, you never again look up at the buildings.