Guilt. A short word for a complex, selfish emotion. I met Goodday yesterday. She was not a small woman, yet I barely noticed her sitting outside the grocery store. An acid sourness wraps its hand around my throat. Do I have work for her, she’s looking for a job. Dismissive and distrustful, almost still in motion, my answer is no. “I am hungry, I have no food”. The hand tightens. Maybe I could give her some money, she is very hungry and so are her four children. Scepticism whispers in my ear, the hand still constricting as if it cannot hear the whispers. Don’t you hear it I ask the hand, but the hand is hungry and desperate. The hand cannot eat my words.
Goodday’s husband died in Zimbabwe, she tells me after she asks if I can buy her some bread. I had said no to helping her, I had said that I did not have any cash on me. My body had turned away from her, but my eyes were still on hers when she said “I am hungry, I have no food”. The words emptied from her and fell to the ground pooling around my feet. I didn’t want it on me, I tried to kick them away but they just lay there weeping in defeat. “I’m just going into the grocery store; can I buy you anything?” These were words that I spoke, yet it was the self serving voice of guilt I heard. Then in a moment, the distrust shifts. Scepticism whispers in her ear, but she cannot eat those whispers and she is hungry. The hand loosens it hold, just barely, but it is a confused and reckless pilot as it steers me around the store, Goodday trailing behind us. Can everyone see, can everyone see the invidious flailing as the hand moves and misdirects me? “Please, just pick whatever is the cheapest one” Goodday’s words feed the hand. Its plump fingers are soft like a child’s, it reaches out to touch my face gently before resuming the grip on my throat.
At the cashier, I pack away Goodday’s groceries. The tally less than I would often spend on a “good” bottle of wine. I am eager to be done with this, eager to be able to breathe again. With the grocery bag still clutched in my one hand, I am embraced. Goodday’s large frame has enveloped me. Fervently she tries to thank me, rhythmically repeating the same words that are drowned by tears that threaten to break free. The guilt gone for a moment, replaced by a wretched, overwhelming sadness. It its only my tears that threaten, that threaten so loudly that I am lost in it.