Her name was Wanda and she needed a place to stay. I was a film student at Howard University and had just come out of the CVS Drugstore down the street from campus when she saw me as I crossed over to the adjoining crosswalk. She was staring at me dead in my face, and disarmed me when she said, “Hi! You look like a nice person.” She seemed sincere enough but now I was sizing her up, and she disarmed me again when she told me her name and said that she needed a place to stay.
In the thirty seconds it took us to cross the street, Wanda told me she had left her husband of twenty-five years because he had beat the crap out of her just a few nights before. She felt old and tired and wanted a new life, but all I saw was a woman in her early fifties who was plumb and curvy with a beautiful complexion and amazing hair. As we continued up the block, she told me her husband beat her because she had cut her hair. For most of her marriage, Wanda kept her hair in a thick and heavy braid that went past her waist, and she was sick of it. But Wanda, who was a light skinned Black woman, almost Creole looking, had that silky-curly textured hair that had been cut into a bob shape with a ton of volume in it, and as a parting gift, her husband had given her a black eye for it, but all I saw were faint yellow traces of any bruising or swelling. We were at the midpoint of the block when Wanda asked if she could stay with me for a few days to rest and gather her thoughts to figure out which direction to go in next. I thought of my roommate who was quite the Pharmacy major, and Monika would’ve completely freaked out if I brought Wanda back to our dorm-apartment, so I politely told her that as nice as I thought she was, I couldn’t let her stay with me.
By now we had walked the entire block and stood at the corner. I tried to assure Wanda that things would be okay and that she be safe, but just as we were about to part ways, something caught our attention as we both looked down and saw in the gutter, a little bird taking a bath in a murky pool of water. As we both stared at it, Wanda suddenly burst into tears, as she pointed at the little bird and said, “That’s what I want from life. I want my life to be like that. That’s all I want out of life.” We gave each other a hug that turned into me holding her up while she wept. I could feel the weight of her pain, which was dull and heavy, but something transpired between us. It was like Wanda and I suddenly became kindred spirits, fated to meet in that particular moment, place and time, even if it was going to be just the briefest of encounters.
It’s hard to put it into words, but I knew what Wanda meant when she said she wanted her life to be like that little bird in a puddle of murky gutter water. It was just a simple thing really, yet spiritually profound and it not only warmed her aching heart, it broke it wide open and touched her deeply. And maybe it reminded her of how repressed her life had been, and revealed the simplicity she was desperate for. Yet the signs were there, like the shape of her haircut; it made Wanda do bold things like abandon her abusive husband and ask a total stranger if she could crash with them. When she finally let go of me, Wanda hugged me one last time. She never asked for any money, and I never saw her again. My encounter with Wanda happened twenty-one years ago and I’ve always hoped that she found a better life to call her own.
Ms. Morgan is a San Francisco native living in Zachary, LA by way of her native Louisianian ex-husband. An undiscovered screenwriter by trade, as well as a developing fiction writer for children and YA. She blogs about the film industry for The Pilgrim Times website, and on her own Film Geek Goddess page on Facebook.