Friday, 24 February 2012


Three days before Christmas, I met a woman who traded sex for crack cocaine. She was sitting beside revolving doors in a department store, and outside, it was dark. 
“I need your help,” she said. “I want someone to walk me home.”
There was a haggard canvas bag on her lap and her hands, gloved by cheap cotton, grasped the handle. She told me a Christian had stopped to talk and she supposed she, herself, was a Christian, too.
I sat beside her and asked what was in the bag.
“A bra - I bought a bra at Zellers, oh,” she paused, “you are probably going to laugh, but I bought these, too.” She pulled out a box of Kotex pads. “I am almost too old to get periods, but I got a urinary infection, or something like that.”
I phoned the Biz to walk her home, and the operator said it would be a while. When I hung up, the woman stared at me. Her eye sockets were hollow and her teeth were rotten. Flakes of skin split from cracks in her lips and her fine, blonde hair was tangled.
“You’re beautiful,” she told me. 
I admitted to wearing false eyelashes and she admitted to being an addict. Rather than love, she has known three violent men and Child and Family Services took her son away. When she asked about my parents, I said I only have one. Abuse is a cycle, she said, and the clerk at Zellers was a bitch. I told her most of them are. Honesty, we agreed, is the best policy.
And then she told me a secret. It was summertime in the nineties when she sat in the parking lot of 7/11; her girlfriend asked if she had her pipe and pointed to a pick-up truck across the street.   
“Crack,” she whispered. “I would have done anything for it, so I guess I did.”
When she was telling me that story, her face looked young and sweet. Naive, even.
“If you want to know the truth,” she went on, “I was going to kill myself that night and I was hoping the guy in that truck would do it for me. But I don’t do that stuff anymore, crack and all that. I only smoke cigarettes now.” 
I said Number 7 when she asked what brand of cigarettes I smoke. 
“Number 7,” she repeated. “The best damn smokes.” Half-smiling, I agreed. “Man,” she shook her head, “the best fuckin’ brand.”
“You should quit.”

“You should quit, too.”

So I  asked if she wanted to make that her New Years resolution with me. She bit her bottom lip and nodded. And when the man from the Biz got there, she offered me her hand, but I hugged her instead. It might have been her first, that hug, because she almost did not let me go.
Weeks later, I was busy at the department store, and did not notice a woman who was wearing sunglasses, despite it being dark outside, and that her coat was open even though it was cold.
“Hey, help me pick out some stuff,” she slurred.

I got sad when I looked at her, because she was high as a kite and barely who I talked to three days before Christmas. She asked if I knew Kristy as her eyes nearly closed.

“Yeah, I know her.” I lied.
“Can you tell her something?” Tears spilled from her eyes. “Tell her I haven’t quit smoking yet, but I will.”

Needless to say I sobbed the whole way home: Women who trade sex for crack cocaine exist. ‘The answer,’ it seems, does not.