Last night a lost soul brushed past me on the street and I could feel the black, sucking wind. She was very beautiful, extremely young, just-enormous eyes. Bare feet and ankles swollen like stumps. Bruises. Old bruises. She was leaving the curb as I reached it to cross the street, making a decision, counting out some kind of breath or strange fairytale with soft beats of her hand on the air. She crossed halfway and came back. Same again. Described a formal square on the asphalt with sober steps, watching her own feet, slightly smiling. In the middle she balanced herself on the white lines and turned to open her arms at the approaching traffic imploringly. I said, We have to help that girl. She cannot have heard me but her gaze focussed on me vaguely, like air. She came back over the road and put herself beside me, very close, her head yearning towards this source of passing kindness with a tilting raise of the chin. I stood beside her. I said, Kommst du mit uns? and invited her to cross the street. Now it was safe. The traffic gathered at a distance, thrumming bulls. She was so surrounded by the sense of imminent threat, or so it seemed to me, it was like she was towing a thunderstorm on a kite string.
She looked into my eyes like a dog. A slow blink. “Alles ok?” I said. “No,” she said, very quietly, in English, very distinctly. I said, “Do you need help?” She sort of spread her hands on the air, two floating castles. Helplessness, helplessness: mine, hers, ours. A young girl like a flower, a roaring jungle infected with needles, coins, tricks. We crossed the road without her, her attention dissolved from me as love dissolves. I looked back and two friends had surrounded her, they carried her back in their intent to the side of the road. She was reasoning with them. In the park one of the African dealers caught my eye and I smiled and he smiled. Then he looked self-conscious, shy. “Are you laughing at me?” “No!” I said. “I’m smiling at you, because you’re beautiful.” He walked on a couple of paces alongside. “That,” he said, thoughtfully, “is a really nice thing.” The girl in my mind made a feint at the traffic from the roadside again, describing circles and air squares all paved in asphalt, more than a dog but less than her altered self, a welter of physical injuries, little fiend no doubt who would steal and shame and was lost in helplessness, waiting for her accident, a ghost already.