I had spent a miserable hour at the Lincoln Park post office, in a line consisting of nothing but miserable people waiting to be served by even-more-miserable postal workers, and pushed the exit door hard enough to rattle it against its frame, grateful to be done and out of there. At 3:15PM, traffic was once again picking up with early-shift workers and school kids leaving for the day, and I hoped to catch my bus up to Broadway before it became too full to board at all. Walking to the stop, weaving between shoppers and strollers and packs of teens giggling and smoking, I came to an alley where a lot of homeless would stand and ask passersby for money or food. When you live in a big city, you learn to walk fast and not respond to anyone calling to you…you just keep moving and look like you know where you are going. Besides, if I gave money to everyone who asked me every day – often the same people multiple times in one day – I’d be broke, too, right?

As I hustled by, my ears listening for my bus rolling and rumbling behind me, my eye caught something and I stopped to look down the alley, which was littered with fast food bags, bottles, and filthy blankets. A young woman with long strawberry-blond dreadlocks and wearing an Army jacket two sizes too large for her was struggling to hold an infant while bending to scoop up the baby’s bottle that was quickly rolling towards a storm drain. As the baby slipped lower in her grasp and pitched forward, I gasped, and jogged towards them.

“Here! Hey! Can I help you?” I instinctively reached out to grab the baby, and with only a short, surprised glance at my face, the girl handed me the infant and ran to retrieve the bottle. The baby, a girl about five or six months old, regarded me quietly with her large brown eyes, calm and alert. I held her awkwardly, one hand supporting her back and neck and the other under her bottom, feeling a very full diaper. I looked back at the young woman, who had picked up the bottle and stood about fifteen feet away, looking at me. Oh no, I thought, my heart sinking, she can’t be any more than 15 or 16 years old. Shit.

The girl seemed wary, nervous, rolling the bottle back and forth in her hands, shifting her feet, but not coming closer. The crowds passed by on Clark Street in back of me, oblivious, and an ancient passed-out drunk, wadded up in newspapers and blankets near a dumpster, was equally oblivious. The baby reached up for my glasses, and I carefully disengaged her tiny fingers from my frames. I could feel urine from her diaper leaking into my hand and soaking into my coat. Damn, that’s all I need. I walked a few steps towards the girl and tried to make small talk, ready to go.

“What’s your baby’s name?”


“Oh! How pretty!” I hesitated, then spoke again. “Um…do you need help? There’s a shelter on Fullerton for women and children. I can give you bus fare…”

She paused, staring at me hard. “No. Thanks.”

“OK, well, then, I guess…” A familiar sound caused me to whip my head around towards the street. Damn! There went my bus! Now I will have to wait at the stop in a baby-piss-covered coat for another one, jamming into some sweaty jerk, I bet. What a crap day.

And when I turned around, the girl was gone, and the baby bottle was on the ground.

“Hey!!! HEY!! WAIT!! NO! WAIT!” Panicked, I ran with the baby clutched to my chest down the alley to the next block, desperately searching for any sign of the girl. “NO! PLEASE! COME BACK!”

Later, in the same alley, disco-lit from swirling red and blue police car lights, a female officer took Azalea from my arms. The baby never cried once, but looked at me curiously when I could not help but do so myself.