The first time I saw her in the store I thought this tall thin woman reminded me of someone out of a Jane Austin novel by the way she walked as if each step was precisely where they should be. She carried a purse over her left arm and sometimes a green sweater over her shoulders. When she spoke, it was in a high lilting I’m-more-important-than-you delicate speech. I had no idea that she was homeless.
She would sashay around the art gallery upstairs and sometimes sit in the coffee shop. Oddly, since she began coming in, we noticed items showing up around the store that were not our merchandise. Colorful glass spheres, candle holders, and other expensive looking nick knacks. Several stores nearby reported such things missing from their shops. We later discovered it was she who brought them to the store as if she was decorating her own home.
One evening she came in and looked at the greeting cards. At times she would glance my direction and quickly turn away. She never bought anything, so I watched her closely. Later I did a walk through the store and she was not to be found. I checked to see if any of our nick knacks were missing. They were not. When the store closed, I did a walk through again before I counted the cash register money. When I finished the report for the boss, I set the alarm and headed home.
The next day, the boss told me that the alarm had gone off about fifteen minutes after I left for home. I assured him I had done a walk through. When the police arrived, they didn’t find anything. I wondered if it was that woman. That night at work I did an in-depth check looking in every nook and cranny for the Jane Austin woman. Sure enough, in a back secluded area of the gallery where the heating and air conditioning systems were, was what appeared to be a nest in the corner. Several water bottles, a McDonald’s sack, and a green sweater.
I had dealt with a homeless man once before who wouldn’t leave one night saying this is where he decided to sleep. I warned him that I would call the cops. “Call ‘em,” he said, and lay his head back and closed his eyes. Many times, homeless people will do something that will get them in jail for the night. They call it “Getting two hots and a cot.” Meaning two free meals and a place to sleep. Normally, I am polite to the homeless. People are people. But the store had rules and we set an alarm at night. I called the police. They escorted the man out, however, did not arrest him for trespassing. I wondered if he had been the one who had made the nest and set off the alarm. But I couldn’t picture him in that green sweater.
The next Saturday after the alarm had gone off the woman came into the store again. I watched her peruse the greeting cards. Later she got a glass of water and set in the coffee shop. About thirty minutes before closing I noticed she was gone. Travelling upstairs. I found her… asleep right in the middle of the art gallery’s wooden floor!
I kindly woke her and told her that she could not sleep there, and I asked her about her green sweater. She said, “Not mine.” Then she went down stairs and I assumed she left the building. Fifteen minutes later the barista told me someone was in the ladies’ restroom and had been there longer than necessary. Of course, I knocked on the door to see if she was alright.
“Just a minute,” she said. A minute turned in to another fifteen. I know that sometimes the homeless would use our restrooms to take a “sink shower.” But she had been in there way too long. I knocked again and she said, “Just a minute. I’m a lady you know.”
She certainly had her pride and I was obviously not prejudiced, but I was concerned about her sense and sensibility of time. She wouldn’t be persuaded.
I called the police.
Several policemen arrived and they pounded on the bathroom door and told her they were the police and she needed to come out.
“Just a minute,” she said with a major emphasis on the word minute.
They pounded again saying they would break the door in if she didn’t come out.
Slowly she opened the door and peaked out. “I’m a lady. I was doing lady stuff,” she said.
They questioned her a bit and she suddenly began talking as if she was British. “Are you from England?” one policeman asked.
“I speak in many accents!” she replied in her British tone.
After much persuasion and argument (in several different accents) she said, “There are a lot of empty buildings at night and why couldn’t you just let us sleep there?” The police wouldn’t relent. In a huff as if the servants wouldn’t listen to her, she said she would, “Never visit this establishment again.”
She tossed her head back, and with her nose in the air, she stepped precisely where each step should be… out of the “establishment.” I never saw her again. I’m not certain, but I think we donated her green sweater to the homeless shelter.