She sits on a small nylon pack, her back against the chain-link fence that separates her bit of sidewalk from the construction at the Newkirk subway station. She is ageless, round-faced, compact. You might call her a beggar, but she seldom begs. She’s a fixture, a feature of the landscape. I’ve been in this neighborhood 2 1/2 years; she’s been here far longer. Everybody knows she’s here.

People give her money. Out of habit, perhaps; out of familiarity. I give her change myself; she opens her hand and looks me in the eye as I pull the odd quarters and nickels from my pocket and drop them on her palm. She nods, sometimes smiles, and says nothing.

It’s kind of like supporting the businesses that surround her. Shop locally, donate locally.

She’s usually quiet. Keeps herself to herself, like a true New Yorker, on this most public of sidewalks in the small, busy and construction-constricted Newkirk Plaza. And she’s usually busy.

Busy sewing.

Her pack is quilted with all manner of material, as is the hooded jacket she wears. She stitches diligently, accurately, surely: the hand that holds the needle and thread is steady and knows what it’s doing. She’s eclectic in her choice of materials: bits of flowered cotton, patches of corduroy, snippets of silk and wool that were once part of something else. Last week, she was wearing a yellow glove stitched, neat and entire, at her jacket’s waistline.

I pass her almost daily now, since my own subway stop closed its “outbound” side (Note: “in” and “out” always apply to Manhattan here in the “outer boroughs.” Subways exist almost universally to serve Manhattan; the MTA leaves the prodigious task of uniting different sections of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx to a slower and less dependable bus system.). I can get to Avenue H from Manhattan by staying on the train for two more stops and doubling back, or I can walk from Newkirk. It’s a pleasant walk, a half-block of commerce and five verdant blocks of Victorian homes, flowers and trees. So I routinely step out of the subway there and head south, and there she is, sitting on her motley throne across from the Sovereign bank. I pay my obeisance and move on.

Now and then, she’s not so quiet. Yesterday, she was laughing uproariously, listening to a small orange plastic iPod-ish device through white plastic earbuds. Sometimes she talks to people I can’t see. Granted, the cell phone revolution has made this a common phenomenon, but there’s no bluetooth receiver screwed into her ear.

Sometimes—rarely—she rails at passersby, words that highlight their racial characteristics. The Newkirk parade comes in every conceivable color and cultural flavor, and she herself is dark-skinned, so her epithets can be a bit creative. The words are sharp, as colorful as the patches on her jacket. After she crests this upward cycle, she disappears for a few days. Then she comes back, quiet and busy with needle and thread.

Sometimes she disappears when she’s quiet.

I remember the first day I found her gone. This was several months ago. Her patchwork pack sat on the sidewalk, but she was nowhere to be seen. A day later, still gone. The third day, nowhere to be seen.

I asked after her in the Newkirk Plaza businesses. The guy in Ace Hardware wasn’t aware she’d left. The woman in the liquor store shrugged. She told me she sometimes went other places to beg. She lowered her voice and added, “She makes a lot of money, you know.”

I knew; I’d seen her counting dollar bills. But that in itself could make a person vulnerable. And there was the matter of her pack, that it was here and she wasn’t.

“Well, she’s disappeared before, but she’s always managed to get back,” she said. “She’s no fool.”

I asked in Dunkin Donuts. The young woman behind the counter admitted that she hadn’t seen her for awhile. “Sometimes people invite her to stay with them, but she never stays for long. And she always seems to go somewhere when the weather turns bad.”

It was late summer. The weather was mild, for the most part.

I passed her empty perch and envisioned the worst—that somebody watched her counting her money, followed her to wherever she goes when the weather turns bad. It’s New York; the body of a street person found on the subway tracks wouldn’t make the Times unless it derailed the train. Maybe not even then.

A week went by. Two. Her pack sat unmolested next to the chain-link fence, but she wasn’t there. The woman in the liquor store thought she’d spotted her a few days ago, but wasn’t certain.

“I still haven’t seen her,” said the girl in Dunkin’ Donuts.

Three weeks.

Then, one muggy day, she was there, sitting on the pack.

Why was I so relieved? I didn’t know this woman, really. We were nothing to each other; we were the proverbial passing ships. And yet…

“I was worried about you,” I told her as I dropped change into her palm.

She looked me in the eyes, smiled, nodded, said nothing.

And life in Newkirk Plaza went on.