A woman, maybe 35, in jeans and a green rain jacket walked by carrying a black purse. I noticed because she walked with the gate of a person with a disability. Several steps past me she stopped, turned around, and looked at me. I smiled. She began to speak to me in incomprehensible syllables. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I smiled. She repeated her groaning.
“What is it?” I inquired.
After “speaking” a few more sentences, she reached out her hand toward me. The akwardness was growing. All her motions were noticeably slow. Once her arm was extended, she wiggled her fingers while looking at me with soft eyes that didn't seem to fully focus.
Patrons at surrounding tables stared my direction as well. She just keep wiggling her fingers, uttering sounds no one understood. I looked around. She was alone. I smiled again and said, “What do you need?” She came closer, her hand reaching for my wrist resting on my laptop. Maybe she just wants to touch me for some reason, I thought.
Instead, she took my hand and pulled me up from my chair. My eyes made contact with the man at the table behind her. He looked at me with a mix of surprise and questioning. I suspect my facial expression matched his.
I allowed the woman in the rain slicker to lead me by the hand. She took me to the coffee condiments counter that housed a stack of plastic cups and a help-yourself pitcher of water. She grabbed the cup-stack, wrestling 4 off the top. For over a minute she struggled to separate one cup from the four. I wondered if I should help her. I held out my hands but she never allowed me to reach the cups. I waited.
Once she had her single cup, she pointed to the water pitcher. I lifted it and poured her a glass. She drank the whole thing, and pointed to the pitcher again. I poured another cup. She downed it and reached for the pitcher herself this time. Uh oh, I thought.
I watched, judging her ability as she attempted to pour her own drink. Moving ever so gingerly, she tilted the pitcher while holding the cup. This seemed in slow motion. Her aim was off a few fractions of an inch, so at the last second I maneuvered her hand with the cup to the precise spot to catch the water.
All this while she didn’t look at me or speak to me. I just stood next to her at the counter.
When the cup neared full, I said, “OK.” She stopped pouring and drank her third glassful in a row. Wow, she was thirsty. Maybe she just doesn't know when to stop. I wondered if I should cut her off when she began pouring a fourth cup. Instead I let her fill it, as slowly as before.
I questioned why she sought my help only to do it herself? She knew where the water was and seemed fairly capable of pouring it - at least in a rain jacket. As she drank that fourth cup, I wiped the small spills from the counter. Suddenly this passage came to my mind:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
I was chosen to serve today, I thought. Chosen to share water, perhaps with a woman and perhaps with the Living Water Himself. This was the best thing I did all day. All week. All month even. Maybe all year.
After the fourth cupful, a care taker showed up on the scene and led the woman away. She looked back at me one last time. I smiled. By the time I returned to my seat, the café patrons were no longer watching me or the woman—our interaction at the condiment counter had been quiet and lengthy. They’d gone back to reading their books. I, however, couldn’t return to my project. My thoughts were captivated by Jesus’ words, and the woman in the green rain slicker.