The Woman at the Post Office
Anne Looney Cook
She stood in the corner in the vestibule of the Crossville Post Office on a cold January day, bundled against the challenging weather. I gave her a glance as I went inside, assuming she would exit through an opening door.
The post office is a site where people hurry about, but it’s also a social place where folks meet and greet and show courtesy in opening the swinging doors. My purpose was to check for mail and go about several errands. However, my time inside was like finding a friend in Walmart, and our talking took several minutes.
When I started to leave the post office, I realized that she was still in her spot inside the tall plate glass windows near the seldom-used public telephone. From there, she could look at incoming people and slowing vehicles. She had an expression of resolve to be on lookout but also one of furtiveness about her circumstances.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
“No, I’m waiting for someone to pick me up,” she said.
“Have you been waiting long?” My assumption told me so.
“A while now, but she’s supposed to be on her way.”
I stepped closer to hear her soft-spoken words as well as to tighten our space in the entryway.
“Can I take you where you need to go? In this weather, I’d be glad to help you get there.”
I saw a bulging, distressed backpack stashed behind her on the floor in the corner. She wore several layers, and her frayed jacket was missing a button or two. She had a thin scarf tied around her hair, but graying tufts squiggled out around her ears. Her appearance overall was a khaki drab monochrome.
We exchanged a few more words, but she quietly refused my offer and repeated her expectation for being picked-up.
My heart went out to this small woman who appeared to want to recede from the bustle of post office patrons while she waited for the person she claimed would take her away.
She spoke again to decline my offer, and I noticed something distinctive. What she needed as much as a ride was a toothbrush, but I did not have one to give her. Such a simple thing I wished for her in that moment.
As I walked away, I vowed to keep a few in my car and thereafter offer a toothbrush as a handout to someone like the woman waiting at the post office.