It was late, the air was beginning to cool whilst the sky faded into a dark indigo as we walked down fifth street and there she was, huddled into an almost unidentifiable bundle at the side of the road, Erika.
She came to life when we approached and gave us all a warm greeting. I knelt to kiss her cheek and I distinctly remember her voice as she said ‘Hello, nice to meet you,’ in slow, uncertain English. I can hear her say it even now in my head. It made my soul smile. I sat down beside her and we shared our names and a little about our lives with my limited Spanish and her slightly confused sate, due to years of drug abuse and stunted growth.
I don’t really know what it was about her, but she drew me in and I felt so much love towards her. Since this first meeting I have met with Erika many times and for a while every time was like the first, for her at least.
She didn’t remember or recognise me, that is what years of living on the streets and sniffing solvents has done to her. She is probably in her mid-to-late thirties, although her lifestyle has aged her somewhat. I’m not sure how long she has been on the streets, but I would guess more than 15 years.
I wish I knew more of her story, how she ended up on the streets, why she decided to stay, if she ever wanted to leave, if she knows she is loved.
Just last week I was able to spend some quality time with her, we visited her during the afternoon and for maybe the first time, she knew who I was.
She couldn’t remember my name, but she knew that she had met me before. Erika always has such a big smile on her face and a very distinct little half laugh that follows most of what she says. She gestured to me to sit, as we chatted more about life. She showed me a few of her possessions including a tiny plastic star and a note book. Erika proceeded to hand me her notebook and asked me to draw for her.
So, I found myself sat there in the streets, in ‘la terminal’ Guatemala City, with my friend Erika. I drew in her notebook as the afternoon began to turn into evening. I drew a house, a girl, flowers, stars, the moon, page after page she turned and requested a new drawing.
It was a beautifully humbling time for me and I am convinced that I was more blessed by this encounter than Erika.
I know so little of her life and what it must be like for her. What she thinks and feels, what I do know is that Erika has a beautiful heart and a warmth to her that brings joy. I am blessed to know her and am glad to have been able to spend time with her.
‘Time spent with another person is never time wasted!’
Never have truer words been said, building relationships and spending time with others, valuing them and loving them at the same time as being valued and loved is a special gift. To have been allowed into Erika’s life and her world is a gift. So many people walk by her every single day, seeing only a shape on the floor, a bundle of clothes and dirt hiding a person. They walk past and don’t even see her.
But God sees her and so do I, and I am better for it.