Five (#794) 02-28-15

I have seen this lady inside the coffee shop many times. I vowed that when I saw her outside, I would ask for a portrait. But I never saw her outside. So one day, as I entered, she was getting up from a seat by the door; she was heading for more coffee. I waited for her to return. I planned to meet her and ask her to step outside. When she came back, I made my ask with these words, “I have made a million of portraits right outside...”, and then she cut me off. With an indignant look and hands on her hips, she said “What? You've made a million portraits and never made one of ME?” Oh, this was going to be good.

I introduced myself by name and held my hand out. She shook it and gave her name as Five.


“Yeah, Five”

“That's your name?”

“Yeah. Don't you understand Five?”

“Uh, I guess.”

She turned to the woman behind the counter; “Laura, isn't Five my name?”

Laura shrugged and pointed, “She's Number Five.”

Five is the fifth of nine children. When she came home from school, her daddy would say, “Well, number five is still alive.” So she's Five.

Number Five went to the University of South Florida four years after me. She had an eclectic career, but spent a lot of it as a school teacher of grammar. She has no children of her own. As a young woman, she had uterine fibroids, a large problem in the African American community. This required a hysterectomy, but Number Five says that she was 'spayed'.

Now she volunteers as a teacher at the Precious Jewels Academy in Newtown, an African American, and troubled neighborhood. The private school was founded by a retired educator who opened it up for troubled, at risk kids from a nearby housing project. Ironically, just yesterday the local newspaper had a human interest story about the academy. It is inspirational.

Five has been living in the same apartment for several years, but the rent goes up and up. She is ready to move. Five was about to catch a bus to check out a possible new residence, and then another bus home. I offered to drive her. It was to a neighborhood plagued by many motels housing prostitutes. After a police crackdown, many properties were purchased by developers who upgraded the motels into permanent apartments. An affable Brit named Toby was at the front desk (he refused the opportunity to be photographed :-( ). The outside looked nice and the price was right, so Five put her name on a list for occupancy. Toby said that he 'couldn't' call her, that she would have to call daily to check. It struck me odd that he would not call, and that Five didn't check out the interior of an apartment.

A few days later she informed me that all was not as it seemed. Five called Toby who said that a unit was available for her. But upon arrival, he was hostile and uncooperative – he was suddenly not sure that he would have an apartment for her. Confused at his change in demeanor, she met another potential renter outside. Apparently the apartments were only minimally improved inside; vestiges of previous history remained. And she confirmed that Toby was unpleasant and uncooperative. Five feels lucky that she didn't sign a lease, and explains Toby's original nice behavior on my being present.

Life is tough.