At this time in my life, I am trying to be less helpful. If someone’s on their cell phone walking towards me on the middle of the sidewalk, I don’t step to one side. I eat the last orange. I don’t help out like I used to–it’s someone else’s turn. But there are situations in which I thought I always helped. Once I saw a woman at the side of the road hurrying away from two men and I pulled my car over and asked if she needed help. She said she didn’t, but I am satisfied I did the right thing. Wasn’t it in my nature?

Those two inclinations came into conflict yesterday. I was on my bicycle at Bloor and Avenue Road (a major downtown Toronto intersection) waiting for the light to change, watching the people in front of me cross the street. One of them was a shock to see. She walked expertly in silver platform shoes with six-inch heels. She had long white-blond hair and an expression on her face I think meant distress, although I may have been imagining it. She was wearing a T-shirt with no bra.

Beneath it she wore only a thong so see-through you could tell she had a Brazilian wax.  Essentially she was naked from the waist down. As she passed in front of the traffic everyone’s head swivelled to the right. Yes, she was naked–a really nice pair of buttocks propelled her forward. She walked in front of the Royal Ontario Museum, at the same steady pace. The light changed, and we all surged forward.

I have been thinking about her ever since.

There are a few really high-end hotels north across the street from the intersection. Did she know she was dressed in such a way? Of course she did. Was it her choice? I’m not so sure. She kept her gaze steady, looking straight ahead. And there was that expression, perhaps, of distress.

Was she escaping from something? She was missing a skirt or a pair of shorts. Was she an attempted rape victim? She would have begged someone to help her instead of walking down the street, yes? Was she a sex worker? Had an assignation gone wrong? It was hard not to imagine her facing something in a hotel room that wasn’t part of the deal, that frightened her enough to leave in silver platform shoes with six-inch heels.

My thoughts in the seconds I watched her were, successively: that’s a hooker. That’s a woman in a bad situation. Maybe it’s her choice. Maybe she needs help. It’s none of my business. I should ask her if I can help. She might lash out at me. What would you have done?  What if . . .?

Then the light changed.