Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FRAGMENTS: Feeding the Hungry Homeless

I first noticed her several weeks ago as I was walking home along Shebashevsky Pereulok. She was alone, waiting by some metal gates that guard the territory of a burned-out school near my apartment building. I couldn't tell how old she was, but I guessed by her face and the general smallness of her body that she was entering mid-adolescence. The slight bulge of her abdomen told me she was pregnant. The general scruffiness of her appearance told me she was probably homeless.

Over the weeks, I would see her from time to time, always in the same spot, waiting by the gates. It was never clear whether she was waiting for some specific person. One time, I saw a well-dressed, middle-aged woman and her young son stop by the waiting figure; the woman held out a hot dog, which was received mutely, greedily.

So that's it, I thought. She's not waiting for someone; she's waiting for anyone, anyone who will give her something to eat.

I noticed over time that other people committed acts of culinary kindness, offering her various types of food and drink: some dried fish, a boiled egg, some milk.

I, too, started to bring her things to eat. But the problem was that I didn't always find her waiting by the gates on Shebashevsky Pereulok. She obviously had her own schedule for appearing, probably based on the vagaries of the weather - which had turned unseasonably cold - on how hungry she was, and on how many people were walking about on the street and likely to give her something to eat. During the first 10 days of May - what with the various holidays of May Day and Victory Day - I saw her rarely.

One day, when I didn't see her in her usual spot, I decided to seek her out in the yard behind the fence. The metal gates on Shebashevsky are locked, but another set of gates around the side of the site are open. I tried that entrance.

I walked through the gates and saw a wasteland, with old shoes, broken bottles, cardboard boxes, empty soda cans and other debris littering the ground. The burned-out building was crumbling, its windows broken out, the roof gone. On one of the dilapidated brick walls, someone had scrawled in red ink, "Tut zhivut BOMZhI," Homeless Live Here.

I walked further into the yard and noticed an odd plethora of bones, including half the rib cage of a cow. At first, the sight of the bones did not bother me much; there is a meat shop near the yard, and I thought that the homeless who live in the area might pick the bones out of a nearby dumpster and cut off what meat might be left.

But then I saw a bone that looked strangely look a human hip joint - a small human hip joint. (I described it later to a neighbor, who said it couldn't have been human, that it must have been a calf's bone.) At that point, I decided to curtail my visit to the yard, taking home the food I had brough t with me.

In the succeeding days, I walked to the metro along Shebashevsky Pereulok, hoping to find her. But she was nowhere to be found. The days are cold, I thought, and maybe she's taking shelter from the chill somewhere else.

Then, a few days ago, I finally saw her, once again waiting by the gates. I had some food with me, and, as I approached her on the sidewalk, I noticed my neighbor from the third floor of my building walking toward us.

As I reached out to give her the food, my neighbor came up to me and asked with some consternation, "What, are you feeding her?" "Yes," I said, smiling slightly. "She's filthy," he insisted. I continued to feed her. "Ty nenormalnaya," - you're not normal - he said, laughing and turning away.

But I understand his scolding; not everyone likes stray cats.