Olivia

I’m not admitting to procrastination, but I finally got around to cleaning out the briefcase I used on vacation two months ago. This is my extra briefcase, the one kept for personal use versus the one I use for business on a regular basis. It serves as a professional catch-all, a convenient landing place for receipts, writing pens, socks, paperbacks, travel brochures, and the like. I created several piles atop my quilted bedspread–one for useless papers and outdated things to toss, a second stack of what is important to keep, and still another for those things that fall somewhere between the other more definitive categories. It was into the third pile that I placed a small green metal ringed notepad. First glance did not stir any memory, so I tossed it aside and completed my task. I trashed the throwaway items, carefully filed and stored the keepers, and then set about the less pleasant business of vacation triage–what to salvage and, more importantly, where to put the things that make the cut. I retrieved the small notepad to examine it more closely and opened it in order to make sure the pages were blank so that I could save it for my grandchildren’s use. Sorting vacation remnants amounts to something akin to mental hop scotch; each item jogs a memory. What I remembered about the miniature notepad was that I had found it in the rear of the rented Suburban while arranging our luggage. Time was of the essence, so I had stuffed it in a pocket and later stowed it in my travel briefcase. That’s where it remained until today. 

What I read connects me to someone I’ll never meet but am praying for nonetheless. The name ‘Olivia’ is neatly written in red ink on the cover. The first page contains a choppy explanation of the note pad’s use–Olivia is learning what it means to be homeless. She writes: “I am used to having water and food always available. Now I won’t be able to. Homeless ppl don’t. I am expecting to be under a bridge in a large group of homeless community. Long walk, cold and wet. Some said, ‘take care,’ and ‘God bless you.’ Most people just turn the other way. Stared at me and judged. Hope is for today.” That’s the line that got me. When you’re cold and hungry, life rapidly distills the essentials– locate food and warmth, and secure it now, not later. I flip the miniature page and find cryptic notes of an interview with Gary. Olivia describes him as a trucker who lived in thirty one different states, but has been “here” for three years. She learns from Gary that “flying” is another word for panhandling, and that he takes what he calls an “honest” approach. Instead of holding a sign advertising: ‘Will work for food’, his states simply: ‘Need Beer.’ Olivia evidently tried her hand at flying and took in $28 in thirty minutes. It started to rain and one person in particular bought three meals from Chickfila and told her to take care of her kids.

The mysterious little flip pad raises many questions. Who is Olivia? Where is “here?” What prompted her poverty immersion? What happened to Gary? Why did Olivia begin recording her experience only to stop after four pages and discard the notepad? How did it end up in the back of a rental, and why was I the one to find and read it? Was Olivia altered by the experience? What would she think if she were reading this right now? All of these are unsolvable mysteries, along with the identities and stories of the homeless people Olivia interviewed. All that remains is a small green notepad and one riveting conclusion–no matter who you are, hope is for today.

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