My Best Dinner Companion

by Jennifer Shukla

Several years ago, I was living in New York City for a summer as part of a college internship. I had a roommate there, but we kept very different schedules so I almost never saw her. Every morning on my way to work, I would pass a homeless woman who slept under an overhang on the side of my building. The first few days I saw her, although I’m certainly not proud of it, I experienced a feeling common to those people with jobs and homes living in the city who encounter homeless individuals on a regular basis. I looked at the woman sitting there in rags and saw nothing more than another smelly dirty homeless person and resented that I had to go to work while she just sat there all day asking for other people’s money. Despite my awful attitude, the homeless woman pleasantly smiled and waved at me every day when I left in the morning and greeted me every time I came home at night. Her constant friendliness broke through my barriers and I started to return her smiles and waves as I passed by.

After a few days of our new arrangement of exchanging pleasantries, I began to wonder, who was this woman? It bothered me that I saw her everyday, said good morning or waved, and yet knew nothing about the woman other than that she lived outside my building. So, I started pausing to talk to her instead of just passing by some days. I learned that her name was Anna, that she was very religious, and that Anna had been a cleaning person. On the days when I stopped to talk to Anna, I would usually give her some spare change or a dollar. I did it partially because I felt bad for Anna, but honestly I was probably more motivated by a feeling of social obligation than genuine charity. Although I passed Anna at least twice every day, other than my brief encounters with her, I gave her little thought throughout the day.

After a few weeks, though, I was cooking dinner for myself in my apartment one evening. I found myself wondering what Anna was eating that night, whether she had gotten enough spare change to buy herself food that day. I looked at the box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in my hand (I was a college student, it’s what I lived on those days) and realized that it would be no extra work to make a little more macaroni than I could eat. I wanted to share the extras with Anna, but was afraid that she would be insulted that I thought she couldn’t get food for herself or that it was somehow a bad thing to do. I nervously scooped out some macaroni on a paper plate and brought it to Anna. I don’t know why I was afraid, I guess I thought maybe she would throw it at me or yell at me. I clumsily offered her the food and she gratefully accepted. Then I wandered back upstairs to my apartment. I knew it was just a tiny little gesture, after all it had been no extra work to make a little more food and had cost me next to nothing, but somehow that simple act made me feel a lot better about myself and about the world.

After that, it felt a lot more natural. Sometimes I went out with friends or my boyfriend or ate at work, but whenever I cooked at home, I would make a little extra and bring Anna a plate of spaghetti, rice, grilled chicken, or whatever I made with my limited cooking abilities. Some evenings, I just brought Anna the food and left. Once in a while, I would bring my food outside too and sit and eat with Anna. On those evenings, Anna would talk and I would listen. She wasn’t as clever or as witty as others that I’ve known, but she was honest, forthcoming, and friendly. Anna told me about life on the streets and the life she had before she lost her job and home. Sometimes Anna mumbled or repeated the same stories over and over, but she never once judged me or expected more of me than I was willing to give. She was always very grateful when I brought her food and never complained about the nights when I didn’t bring her food.

Eventually, the summer ended and I had to head back to college. I would love to say that I kept in touch with Anna but that would be a lie. I said goodbye, handed Anna some cash, and moved away. But I never forgot those dinners with Anna. To this day, when I encounter a homeless person, I don’t just see a pile of dirty rags, but an individual with a unique story. It makes me smile when I think that my little gesture of kindness did so much. It cost me almost nothing, took very little effort, and yet helped feed a woman who might not have been able to eat otherwise and brought me in contact with one of my all-time favorite dinner companions.

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Published by Scott Hughes

I am the author of Achieve Your Dreams. I also published the book Holding Fire: Short Stories of Self-Destruction. I have two kids who I love so much. I just want to be a good role model for them. I hope what I do here makes them proud of me. Please let me know you think about the post by leaving a comment below!

One reply on “My Best Dinner Companion”

  1. What a great story! It makes me feel good just to hear of this, I can’t imagine how rewarding it actually was to have been there. This story demonstrates two very important aspects of homelessness and poverty. First, it demonstrates the humanism of homeless people, such as Anna. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems we want to think of these people as things, rather than people just like us. The second aspect of homelessness that this story demonstrates is how rewarding helping can be. The interaction between Jennifer Shukla and Anna is something that not only made them both happy at the time, but it’s something that has stuck with Jennifer Shukla for the rest of her life.

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