Street People gods
Bev Vines-Haines

Tillie Lawson moved to Portland as soon as she turned sixteen, quit school and failed her GED test.  Her parents were drinking the night she left and even though she waved goodbye they failed to acknowledge her. 

Raised in Seattle, she’d vowed to move to Oregon the first time she heard Portland’s unofficial motto was KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.  Since she’d been considered as the weirdest of the weird since first grade she thought her round peg would fit the square holes a bit better there. 

Things didn’t go great once she arrived.  Corners, alleys and dumpsters were hard to come by.  She laughed remembering how her grandma had taken her to church and they always had to sit in the same pew.  Not just the same pew but the same spot on the same pew.  In Portland, dumpster pews and alley pews already belonged to the weirdos that arrived before she did. 

Pan handling was frowned upon in downtown areas and she got chased out more times than she could count.  So she moved toward the malls and freeways.  She found an underpass and a ledge she could sleep on and for the first time since she’d arrived no one challenged her.  Freeway sounds make lousy white noise but eventually the hum of tires lulled her to sleep.

The next morning she crafted a cardboard sign she figured would transcend all others.  It read, “Trying to get my GED, a job and a better life.”  She laughed out loud looking at it.  She did not want a job.  Or a GED actually.  What would she do with it?  Frame it and hang it above the ledge in her underpass?

But the sign did what it was meant to do.  Tillie played on her innocent look and the fact she could easily pass for twelve.  Her ‘sure thing’ marks were mothers and grandmothers.  Often they gave her ten bucks, a pat on the back and then a hug.  Fathers and grandfathers were a little tougher.  They gave money all right but usually sidled too close, whispered lewd things in her ear and asked where she stayed at night.

By ten most mornings she had plenty of cash for food and she often tried to move closer to downtown where she could capitalize on businessmen.  The second week, on a retail corner, she got pulled behind a building, beaten and robbed of the cash she kept in her bra.  She looked for a cop but they looked the other way.  Unless they think the homeless are shoplifting they simply do not see them.

Though her grandma once taught her to pray she no longer tried.  There are no gods for street people. 

First published: November 2017
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