The smell was overpowering; even people not prone to getting queasy easily would crunch up their nose trying to shield the putrid odor. They might as well have stood near a cadaver. Or not; a corpse might have been cleaner. The woman was filthy. Her hair plastered to her face in knots, looking some dirty dark colour. Her face looked as if she’d fallen on her face in a swamp and hadn’t cleaned since.
From her demeanour, she knew it too. She tried to stay away from people, not approaching them. And from the look on her face, she didn’t know how to handle the distance.
Whenever she did come near the people in the room, they chased her away with disagreeable comments. Stray dogs were treated better. She looked hungry too; her eyes too wide in her face, her hands holding her stomach as if the starving cramps were too much to bear.
She didn’t appear to know how to behave. There was hopelessness in her eyes. It made him angry. She was down on her luck, even more so than the people at the shelter and those who should understand treated her that way? He strode towards her, ready to help. But he too had to stop a few feet away. He was used to working with homeless people but this woman – girl? – hadn’t seen a shower in too many days.
“I’m sorry.” She said when she saw him stand still not crossing the meters separating them.
“No. I am. Follow me. There’s a place for you to shower.”
She looked down. She probably only had the clothes on her back and it would be pointless to clean herself up and then wear the same filthy rags.
“I’ll find you something.”
She bit her lips; she suddenly seemed very young.
He knew what she was about to say: she couldn’t afford paying them back. She couldn’t afford owing someone anything. He knew the ways of the streets. She’d obviously found herself on the wrong end.
“Don’t worry about it. How long since you last had food?”
“I don’t know. Yesterday, the day before. I’m not sure. I got lost.”
“Here it is. Go in. Take the time you need. There’s soap, shampoo, towels and some clean brushes. Oh, toothbrush and paste too. I’ll be back soon.”
He opened the door to let her in. When she passed in front of him, she seemed to hesitate. Her hands moved as if she would shake his hand or hug him. But she stopped herself.
He closed the door and walked to the laundry room. There he found a simple blouse and a pair of jeans. Not knowing her size, he grabbed a skirt as well. Nothing he could do about bra, but he took some undies from the new purchased bin. And socks. Shoes, she’d have to try, but at least some clean clothes would help.
He proceeded to grab some soup and bread from the kitchen, along with a piece of cheese and some fruit before returning to the shower room. There he waited for some 20 odd minutes. He wouldn’t want to interrupt her. After that he did knock. Receiving no answer, he opened the door and entered the place. The shower was still running, the place humid and warm. He placed the clothes and the food on one of the benches. As he made to turn, she came out of the shower, her body wrapped in a towel.
He stopped in his track. The difference was… mind-blowing. Underneath the filthy grime and dirt, she had an alabaster complexion. Her hair was wet but they looked more a sort of reddish brown. And her green eyes seemed more alive now than before. She was… He swallowed. She still look too vulnerable, almost ethereal. She must eat.
“Thank you for allowing me to reclaim myself.”
She said again as she extended her hand this time. He took, fire racing through his skin, as she touched him. What had happened to her?
“Sera. And you?”
“Nathan. I brought you some food. You’ll feel better.”
“Thank you. You’re an angel.”
More likely she was… But he wasn’t going to tell her that. He knew nothing about her.
He left the room and returned to help the others; he couldn’t be seen as favouring one person over the other. It would create conflict. It was hard to have so many helpless individuals together: their desire to survive sometimes made them do things they wouldn’t otherwise consider. But when she didn’t re-enter the main room, he was concerned. He asked Molly to go see. Moments later, his assistant came back and shook her head. The woman was gone. He sighed; it was the way of things sometimes. He wished he would see her again, but hopefully not here.
He knew what his life was like: he’d chosen it. Be an anchor for those adrift. When they no longer needed him, he must let them go.
In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Filthy