On any given day.
What do you know?
How are you questioned?
I went to the Linden El Station to fill Henry’s student bus card.
It was freezing. I was in a hurry.
A young woman. Sitting on a bench. In the station. Smiled at me.
I smiled. Nodded a quick hello.
And instantly. Felt threatened.
I went about my business of filling Henry’s bus card with $20.
But I messed it up. Because I was rattled. Because I knew. That the young woman was hoping I could help her.
“Hi. Do you have a dollar I could use to get on the bus?”
She must want more than a dollar.
“No sorry. I’ve only got my credit card. No cash.” A lie.
I hate myself.
I scan my credit card and attempt to purchase a refill for Henry’s card. Before I know what’s happening a card shoots out of the machine. Crap. It’s a regular card. Rather than filling Henry’s student card. Twice the cost.
“Could you just put me on the bus then?” The young woman asks.
What does she want from me?
“No sorry – this is my son’s student card.”
Who is saying these things?
I rush to leave the station. “Really sorry,” I say to her on the way out.
“Thanks. That’s ok. Really.”
And it feels like she really, genuinely doesn’t want me to feel like a total shit for not giving her a dollar.
What do I spend a dollar on?
How many people have given Henry a dollar to ride the bus when he’s come up short?
What in the world am I thinking?
I leave the station and run a few errands nearby.
And am beside myself. I don’t care if she’s trying to scam me for a few dollars.
Why haven’t I helped her?
I head back to the station.
She’s standing at the pay machine trying to purchase a bus card.
“Do you still need money?” I ask.
“Just 75 cents.”
I give her a five dollar bill.
She holds up the dollar in her hand and asks if I want it in exchange.
Her nails are dirty. She’s cold as hell. I feel like a total shit.
“No.” I shake my head. And try to hide that I’m about to totally lose it and start sobbing.
For me as much as for her.
Because I was afraid to help her.
I was afraid to give her a dollar. And look her in the eye.
What did I see when I did?
And I cried and cried and cried.