Christina Mailhot stood at the bus stop on Temple Street with the ends of her jacket sleeves curled around her hands and an L.L.Bean backpack, monogrammed with her mother’s name, Irene, hanging from her shoulders.
She was waiting for the next bus to Hannaford, when a bearded man asking for money walked up and patted her on the arm.
“Hey, big girl,” he said.
Mailhot froze. Her eyes, usually scrunched up from her smile, got wide and shaky. She didn’t speak, until he walked away.
“I wish people would just leave me alone,” she said.
Sometimes they ask for money. Other times they follow her, she said. Often, walking around Portland, she hears the same thing she has since elementary school.
“People start calling me names, like ‘retard,’” she said.
Mailhot, 35, has Down syndrome. She also has two part-time jobs and a one-bedroom downtown apartment. But, despite her independence, she feels trapped.
“You can’t go out of your own apartment without getting teased,” she said.
Mailhot spends most of her free time inside, reading gossip magazines and watching videos on YouTube. Sometimes, she thinks about moving back home to Lewiston with her mother, but she knows it isn’t worth it.
“I worked so hard to get here,” she said. “I don’t want to go back.”
So, when she has to, she goes out.
Twice a week, Mailhot takes a bus to La Quinta Inn & Suites on Park Avenue, where she has a job vacuuming and folding towels. On Thursdays, she scans documents for an architecture firm on High Street, a short walk from her apartment.
Tuesday is her day for errands.
Mailhot had barely missed a bus on Congress Street earlier in the morning when she saw the No. 8 turn the corner onto Temple Street.
“Oh, shoot!” she said, as she pulled her bus pass out of the front pocket of her backpack.
She tottered down Federal Street on her flat feet, frantically waving the pass at the bus, as it rolled by her, then out of sight.
She knew it would be nearly a half-hour before the next one came.
It’s not that time was an issue. Mailhot had already been to CVS to pick up a prescription and to Norway Savings Bank, where she cashed a check and got help divvying up her money into seven envelopes for her different expenses, like taxi fares and allergy medication.
It was before 10 a.m., and Hannaford was her last stop. But waiting for the bus meant more time alone on the street. That’s when the man with the beard came by.
“He got up in my face like that,” she said, after he had left. “It makes me scared and nervous because I don’t know what the person intends to do.”
When the bus came, Mailhot got on and went straight to the back, like she always does on Tuesdays.
“It’s a lot warmer,” she said.
On workdays, when she’s in a bigger rush, she sits in the front so she doesn’t have to worry about people blocking her way down the aisle with walkers and shopping carts.
She asks that they move them, but they usually don’t.
At the store, Mailhot pulled a cart from the stack and methodically made her way through the aisles.
She filled the basket with staples and snack foods, stopping to ask a store employee help her get a soda bottle from the top shelf and to pick up a magazine and look at the cover.
“I want it, but the thing is, how much do I want it?” she said about the plastic-wrapped issue of Celebrity Spectacular. She slid it back in the rack.
At the register, she worried her purchases would go over $80 – the amount she had in her envelope for food. The total rung up to $73.53.
“Oh, sweet!” Mailhot said, taking out the cash. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”
After checking out, she walked to a phone by the exit and dialed the extension for Timely Taxi.
“Mack?” she said. “It’s Christina.”
He told her it would be 15 minutes before he could get to Hannaford, so she piled her bags on a bench inside the door and pushed her cart to the side of the store.
Cabs came and went while she waited, but she won’t use any other company.
“He’s the one I can trust,” she said of Timely Taxi owner, Mack McDonough.
When he pulled up, Mailhot loaded her bags into the trunk and got into the front seat. She handed him $7 from an envelope.
“We’ve been doing this a few years, no?” he said.
When McDonough dropped her off, he honked and waved goodbye. Mailhot waved back.
Aside from a dentist appointment, she had no plans to leave her apartment for the rest of the day, except maybe to get a chocolate chip cookie from Local Sprouts, two doors down from her building.
“I have too much alone time,” she said.