Maria lives in the apartment two floors above mine. I’m pretty sure she’s been living there longer than I’ve been alive. The top of her head is about level with my shoulder. She has long hair that she dyes black and puts up with six combs, at least four gold teeth, and an accent I can’t place.
On Monday, I was heading out with a tote full of bottles to redeem when I found Maria on the stoop, pulling the last of six full plastic bags from a small shopping cart spray-painted gray.
Six bags; four flights.
“Can I help you with those?”
“Thank you, Baby.” She often calls me Baby, and sometimes Mommy (or maybe Mami).
I took four of the bags and started up. Maria followed, groaning, “Oh God,” and “Please God,” and “Terrible,” as she mounted the stairs one at a time.
After we’d set her groceries down in her kitchen (so much neater than mine), she announced, “I go back out. I got more shopping,” so I stood by as she relocked her door and preceded her down the stairs.
It took me twice, maybe three times as long as usual to reach the end of the block, keeping pace with Maria as she pushed her cart and chatted with people who were leaning out of windows or standing around. At the corner we parted company — she was going to stores in the neighborhood, while I was headed for the Whole Foods in Union Square.
Earlier that afternoon I’d made the trek to the UPS service center in Maspeth, and emerged with my half-dozen packages just in time to see the Q67 approaching the nearest bus stop, but not soon enough to actually reach the bus before it pulled out. Luckily, there were several people waiting at the next stop, just a couple blocks away, so with a shout of “Aw, DAMMIT!” I put my head down and broke into a lopsided gallop. Even so, I wouldn’t have made it if not for the disembarking man who saw me and called for the driver to “Hold up!”
As I was riding the L into Manhattan, it occurred to me that Maria would have been stuck out there for half an hour, waiting for the next bus.
Someday, I may no longer be able to run around town while loaded like a pack mule. I hope there’s somebody around to help me then.