It was a cold December evening in Baltimore. The kind of cold you could feel seep into your bones and overstay its welcome.
I had only lived in “Bodymore, Murderland” for a few months and I already knew one key difference between this city and the one I left. If you screamed for help in NYC, people came and helped; if you did that in Baltimore, people locked their doors and looked the other way. Which is why, on this particular night, I feared for my life.
I went to the mall after school to buy a present for my high school “little.” I missed my old high school and longed to be there to finish my senior year with my friends. However, my dad lost his job and I had to start from scratch in a new city and a new school that wasn’t welcoming in the very least. I had never taken the bus to the mall alone in Baltimore. On this particular trip I took three buses from school to Eastpoint Mall, and then needed to take another two buses to get home. (The public transportation system here left a lot to be desired.) By the time I left the mall, the sun straddled the horizon.
I boarded the first bus and got off on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Ponca Street for my second bus. I had two helium balloons and several trinkets in bags. I forgot my gloves at home, and cursed myself as my fingers wrinkled with every lashing of the cruel wind.
I stood on that street corner watching the sunset turn to twilight, and twilight turn to dusk.
Ten minutes went by. Then 20. Half an hour; still waiting. By this time the dusk had turned to night and I was really scared. Every passing minute a small mound of terror grew inside me. Here I was, a budding 17 year old by herself on a corner that although not one of the worst in Baltimore, it certainly wasn’t the safest.
There were about three bars near me, of which I could see two. On occasion, I saw clusters of drunk men stumble about in a daze. In a flash, I remembered all those news stories of young girls getting maimed, kidnapped and raped. (Did I mention I really hate my vivid imagination?) I did not even have a cell phone (this was 2001). The fear inside me grew to astronomical proportions. I had never been this afraid before. I’ve walked past packs of 20 or so drug dealers in NYC, but never was I in this precarious a situation. Oh the irony.
I prayed and prayed for this bus to come so I could not only get home, but get a respite from this bitter and unforgiving cold. My hands were numb. My teeth literally chattered like those gag gifts that are wound up and dance around. I wore three layers and a scarf, but it still was no match for this cold.
All of a sudden, from an extremely narrow alleyway, a tall white man appeared. He was so grey that his hair appeared white. Despite their icy blue color, his eyes looked gentle and warm. He had a clean, shaven face.
But what struck me were his clothes. He definitely wasn’t homeless, but he seemed poorly dressed for the weather conditions. A khaki cargo jacket of sorts, and non-denim pants. No scarf. No gloves. Come to think of it, he also didn’t have a hat. Not a shiver from him. Not even a rubbing of hands to keep warm. He didn’t look dirty, just a little rugged…and out of place. And at the same time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he looked familiar.
He came and stood about 10 feet from me. Far enough where I didn’t feel threatened, but close enough that I knew he was waiting for my bus as well. When he nodded hello at me I knew he was harmless. Just at that moment, one of the drunk men stumbled in front of us but paid no attention to neither of us, thankfully. Had I been alone, I know things would have been different. I said a silent ‘thank you’ for this strange, old man immune to the cold. Another five minutes went by and still no bus. I was hungry, cold and really angry that this bus wasn’t here. Even though this man was a complete stranger, I was afraid I would soon have embarrassing snoticicles hanging from my nose.
Then the unexpected happened. He started small talk with me. Oh boy, I thought. A chatterbox. Just what I needed.
I politely engaged in conversation with him. He started asking me innocent questions that I felt compelled to answer. Being an open book has always been a blessing and a curse. Within 5 minutes, this complete stranger knew I had recently moved to Baltimore from NYC. He knew that I was a singer and that I preferred opera over pop. He knew about my college plans, and even which college I really wanted to attend. Open book.
As I talked to him, I felt the fear leave me. Our bus arrived shortly thereafter. He let me board first, and my frozen hands struggled to pull the right coins out of my pocket. There were seats available in the front of the bus, facing each other across the aisle, and we continued our light conversation.
The bus dinged it’s next stop and I realized it was the stop before mine. The blue-eyed stranger nodded at me, with the warmest of smiles, and got off. In awe, I turned around hoping to catch a glimpse of him walking away from the bus. And it was the darnedest thing. He disappeared.
Ok, not exactly…but the second he stepped off the bus I could no longer see him. It was like he vanished into thin air.
How could a complete stranger just materialize and keep me company when my heart and soul begged for safety? How could that person be immune to that bitter cold? A cold so brutal that it burned your bare skin? How could that same person have a warm glow to his eyes, one that made you feel instantly safe and drawn to him?
Was this an angel? Had to be. I have no other explanation.
And that alleyway I saw him come out from?
I went back and looked for it.
There was no alleyway.
It was a locked gate to the side-entrance of an abandoned building.
Must have been my guardian angel.