She was huddled under an alcove, shivering and shifting her weight from foot to foot as she perched on boots with heels so high, I felt vertigo just looking at her. Our eyes met, and despite my general ability to ignore hardluck cases, honed by years of schnorrers and endless stray cats, I gave an involuntary look of pity. In answer, she carefully plucked the frayed end of her Daisy Dukes out of her ample buttcrack, and shot me a look that said, ‘keep your do-gooder self far away from me!’
I had been performing my tribute to Singing in the Rain, which amounted to twirling my umbrella while singing “Feeling Myself” at the top of my lungs to the four or five jaded people who couldn’t find an excuse to avoid the area around Tel Aviv’s Old Central Bus Station during a Friday morning downpour. I knew thematically I should be singing Rihanna, but I had finally mastered Nicky Minaj’s tricky lyrics, and damned if I wasn’t going to show off a little bit.
Winter in Israel is the time I feel least homesick. It’s not that I’m pining away for Detroit, by any means. Occasionally, however, and typically sometime during the long, humid summers that settle over Tel Aviv like a shroud, I look over the weather forecast in Michigan, feeling melancholy about the upcoming months I would spend without any rainfall.
Of course, since in Tel Aviv there are only about two weeks of showers all year, I usually forget about carrying an umbrella until it’s too late. Then my joy at the cloudburst is tempered by the fact that I am drenched and cold. The rain turns from an occasion for joy into yet another reminder that I have poor planning skills.
This year was already shaping up to be something different. On the same December day that he had taught me the proper way to walk arm and arm with someone as they held an umbrella for you (something which I had never seen put into practice in the States, and romantic in a quintessentially European way), my boyfriend had given me his umbrella as a gift. As it was small enough to fit in my admittedly somewhat oversized purse, I vowed that I would never again be caught unawares by rainfall, and in fact, began to look forward to it whole heartedly.
That is why I had been singing and dancing that Friday morning as I walked the 15 minutes from the train station to my office. There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking in the rain under a gifted umbrella. And the good mood had left me completely unprepared to cope dispassionately with the plight of the “lady of the morning” plying her wares, hoping that someone in need of companionship would brave the storm.
I’m not against prostitution, per se, if it were one of many fields that women could choose from completely voluntarily, especially after having read the generally positive story of an escort featured in SuperFreakonomics. Still, this didn’t seem to be what was going on in this case. Who chooses to stand half-naked during a thunderstorm, with little chance of getting any business? I don’t know what demons were forcing her to be there, but I have rarely been touched as much by the predicament of a single individual as I was that morning. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be a volunteer in a desperately poor third world country, where you have placed yourself by choice, knowing that you can leave at any time, while the people around you are stuck with no chance for escape.
With her watching me disdainfully, I thought about whether I should cross over to her, and at least give her my umbrella. But I thought that I would probably just make her uncomfortable. Maybe if it didn’t have sentimental value, I would have done it anyway. Instead, I went on to work, but I wasn’t singing anymore. I’ve walked down the same street a few more times since then, with some money set aside in my purse. If I see her again, maybe I can help her buy her own umbrella.