Sunday, March 8, 2009

$30 of Thanks

I wrote this piece in early Feb., happened upon it again tonight, touched it up a bit, and thought I'd share it with you. It's rather longer than my usual posts, but I hope you get through it and enjoy it. Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on this first, foundering effort.

My mother had taught me well. As a young white female walking alone one county away from the murder capitol of the United States, my skin was trained to burble at the sight and sound of a burly stranger advancing. A middle aged black woman separated herself from the shadow between two cars asking if I owned one. Calming my alarm and adjusting to the abruptness of the query I asked her to repeat herself.

Do you have a car?

As I did not currently own any transport other than my shoes I answered accordingly. Did I have friends who have a car? ‘Everyone is asleep.’ When the index of my personal property moved on to a cell phone, I willingly offered that tool to her services. She rang a taxi dispatcher and asked if they could drive her to another town.

I live in the town thirty miles away, and I have to get my kids home....All I have is my paycheck with me....The taxi driver says I must pay up front.

It was my turn to catalog her possessions. She had no cash. No credit card. No way to pay for her taxi home. It was cold. It was late. We returned to my pockets.

Do you have a card?

I have nothing on me but my house key and phone.

...A home nearby?

Yes, but all are asleep.

Really no car?

None myself.

As the conversation had turned the full circle I wished her luck and warmth and pivoted back to my own path, but not before hearing her half-aside muttering:


It has been several years now that I have entertained the suspicion every time I encounter overt Christianity that it is somehow factitious. So far from resonating with me, public and unsolicited mention of prayer and praise alike has been met with a gritting not just of my teeth, but of my whole body; beginning with that tightening of the spine just between my shoulders. So home I went. I had seen it before. The women in the metro in D.C. would always single out the young white girls because we were supposed to have money and be more likely to be fiscally compassionate. My homeward tread slackened as my thoughts spurred with unusual frenzy.

It is probably just a scam.

I should not feel obligated to help.

And what if it were me?

That last was not your thought. That was the thought of you Sunday School teacher who was charismatically and unconsciously promoting salvation by works. You don’t believe that.

But I have that twenty in the old cigar box that I was saving for this upcoming week. What if I just gave her that?

But it is a SCAM.

And what if it is? Should that subjectively matter?

As my thoughts continued to whirl themselves into a dervish, I found my way up to my room and fatally opened the cigar box. Grabbing its contents I stepped my way down to the street to look for my vagabond. She had already disappeared. The next several minutes I felt dizzy, as if I were somehow drunkenly searching for the woman in the Old School sweatshirt who needed to get home with her kids. Up the sidewalk to the corner. No one on my street. No one on the crossing street. I walked down the middle of the road, trying to see as far as possible. Away down the block a rabbit had conceived the identical notion and paused in the middle of the street to observe his surroundings. But she was nowhere.

I felt the urge to record the entire episode. Sitting with the window, the street, and the sidewalk all clearly visible around every side of my computer each sentence I wrote was punctuated with a glance down my street. Any hint of movement and I would crane my neck until finally I saw her dark outline against the jeweler at the intersection. I grabbed my little bundle--that twenty bending around my laundry-day roll of quarters--and skittered after her. I caught her a block a way and stuffed it into her hand with a mumble. She hugged me with a staccato word of thanks. My thoughts paced my steps as I again made my way home.

It was genuine, certainly, but not $30 worth of thanks.

That is because it was probably a scam.

But then, does that really even matter?


Marianne Elixir said...

I enjoyed this very much. I could feel the emotional processing of it. I want more like this. Please write us more, dear Val.

I love the spiritual debate going on as well as the narrator (you?) ultimately decides it was not about the probability of a scam, but rather giving sacrificially and listening to the inner prodding of conscience (God?), pointing well, I think, to genuine spirituality as opposed to the "works based" Christianity that repulses.

If you wanted to expand it more, I wanted to see better what the woman looked like. I also wanted to see more details of what you observed on the street while looking for her. I know those don't have much to do with the heart of the story, but I don't think more would detract from the heart either.

Sarah said...

Love it. Zebulin gives to bums this way, it's not his problem if it's a scam, they asked so he gives. I do not think that way, though I wish I did.
Love the style of this as well as the content.

Trespasser said...

Very beautiful story, Val. I'm thrilled to see you expressing your talent. If you're truly inviting some critique, I'd love to talk more with you. Whether or not you take this piece further, it was a lovely and engaging moment.

meg said...

I wish I knew the answer to this. It conjures up so many thoughts I've struggled with in the past. thanks for the heart felt storytelling.

katiewoo13 said...

I experience similar questions regularly living here in Eugene. Thanks for sharing, Val.

Mm said...

Even "Mom" who taught you well still struggles with these events. There is no formula. We bumble along trying to understand genuine compassion: to bind up the hopeless and wounded or prod toward the dignity that is born of self-reliance. And all the while we ache for greater wisdom.
Beautiful piece.