I have carried the money tucked away in my purse, along with a bag filled with clothes, toiletries, and masks in the back of my car, for three weeks now as I searched for her, gifts from two friends as far away as New York who read my posts about her and wanted to help. The elusive Ms. Fay, the older Black woman in a wheelchair who touched my heart deeply when I first encountered her in the Five Points area of Southside Birmingham.
I’d begun to worry that something had happened to her after some friends told me that she was a regular in Five Points, and my heart leapt as Dan and I were parking to get lunch and we spotted her. She was in a different spot from where we’ve seen her before, but I recognized her in a heartbeat, slumped over in her wheelchair, taking a nap in the humid Alabama afternoon, right in the middle of the sidewalk.
The issue was that we were in Dan’s car- the first time in three weeks that we’ve come to lunch and not had the bag with us. We grabbed a quick lunch and then Dan raced me back to my car at the university and then back to Five Points. I was determined that I was not going to fail my mission after people had been kind enough to send gifts and I’d finally found her again. Dan dropped me off at the corner and went in search of parking.
I quickly walked up to Ms. Fay and called her name. Once again my heart swelled as her sleepy eyes opened and a huge grin broke out on her face as she recognized me. She said, “Oh, you even know my name!” That made sad to think how many people just walk on by like she’s a part of the sidewalk. I see it every day, people in need being ignored, treated like they are something other than the human beings they are.
I told her that the money was from a colleague of mine who worked with Stevie Wonder and the bag of goodies was from a friend in New York who wanted to help her. She was over the moon excited looking at everything, especially excited to see that the bag contained pants, obviously something she really needed. She told me to tell my friends that it was her birthday this coming Saturday. She also wanted me to call my colleague, thinking she would get to talk with Stevie Wonder, making me giggle at her excitement.
I asked if I could take her photo and her face scrunched up as she told me she was ugly. I told her she was not ugly at all- she was beautiful, and she again gave me a broad smile and posed for a photo and then a selfie. I told her the days we usually came to Five Points and that I would be looking for her every week. I don’t know how much she will remember, but all I know is that we gave each other a moment of sunshine on this cloudy day.
We have so many homeless people in Birmingham, and I’m not sure why I have become so attached to Ms. Fay, other than I see my mom sitting in her wheelchair when I look at her and think about her being hungry or in need and not having anyone to help her. It also gives me hope in the world during these sad times that people who don’t even know this woman want to reach out and do something to make her life better.
When I got back to the office, I got a message from my best friend, Diane, who shares a birthday with Ms. Fay. She’d sent money for me to give Ms. Fay a birthday treat, and so I’ll buy a card and go looking for my new friend again this weekend. Those ripples of kindness go on and on, farther than we could ever believe. Just do one thing for someone, no matter how humble, and I promise it will change not only their life, but yours, as well, sending endless echoes out into the world.