My homeless friend

The first few times I passed her she seemed to have gathered the quiet around her. I walked past her, noticing that her eyes were closed in contemplation. She was always neat and might’ve been waiting for the bus, but for her neatly packed little cart and the half drunk quart of beer on the ground near her.

Over time we began to talk, just with good morning pleasantries and warm greetings. One day she came into my bookstore. I was slightly surprised because she hadn’t come in the store previously, so I greeted her with, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you!” She told me the reason was because she had been in jail. I was shocked. “What happened, I asked?” She said, “I came in especially to tell you the story.”

She told me that she had been sitting on the front step of one of the nearby houses when someone in the house knocked on the window, getting her attention and gestured to her fiercely to get off the step. Diana said that she ignored it at first, thinking she would finish her beer and then be on her way. Before she could do that, the resident came back with a cell phone pointing at it and said — through the window — that she would call the police if she didn’t leave. Diana noted that she wasn’t disturbing anything, just wanted to finish her beer and would then go. The resident kept pointing at her telephone while Diana said, “I have no place to go. You ought to come down here to see what it’s like.”

The police were called and the resident told the police that she felt threatened. That was what the police needed to make an arrest, so Diana was arrested and spent eight days in jail.

I didn’t see Diana regularly after that, but she went out of her way one day to thank me for being kind to her because she always felt safe and at peace when she came into Forest Books. She said, “I hope you don’t mind I don’t usually come into the store, you know, but I wanted to tell you what happened.” Recently, she said that she’d been beaten up. She laid down some cardboard in front of my shop after hours and as she was bending over she was struck on her cheekbone by a uniformed man who hit her (a) second time, splitting her lip. She managed to get her cart between her and her assailant and cried, “Why are you doing this to me? I’ve done nothing!”

“You’ve been talking too much,” she was told. She said she filed a police report but the police were indifferent and unsupportive because she was homeless.

From what I’ve seen of Diana, she has always been neat, clean, polite, and considerate of me and our community. How could she be criminalized for the misfortune of having been burnt out of her apartment?

Jakushu Gregory Wood is the owner of Forest Books in San Francisco’s Japantown, and a lifelong student of Zen. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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