It was a regular Friday afternoon at the daycare where I work. The kids were leaving early, and we’d be off soon. I put “Ella Enchanted” on for the last two kids when suddenly, there was a knock at the back door. An enormously tall black man waited on the other side. He stood just enough outside on the ramp, so as to not appear menacing, I assumed. He didn’t scare me though, however odd it might’ve been. He didn’t look at me directly in the eyes and began putting a cellphone in my hands along with a newly bought, still in the package, phone charger.
“It’s an emergency. We got kicked out of our apartment… She was drunk… My phone is dead, can I charge it? I’m sorry, it’s an emergency.” His voice was shaking as if he was about to cry.
I told him he could not come inside, but that if he left it, he could pick it up in about 15 minutes. He politely thanked me and left.
He retrieved it, right on cue, his phone now at 68%. He thanked me again, still without eye contact, and hurried away.
All the kids left for the weekend, and I hopped in my bright red Ranger, ready to relax at home. However, I didn’t get very far.
Two blocks down the road, I saw the man, and possibly his girlfriend sitting, not on the bench inside the bus stop, but just to the side of it, on the curb. They held their chins in their hands, elbows on their thighs, everything was supporting another body part, and I wondered where the cycle of downtrodden body parts began.
I immediately flipped an illegal U-turn, not thinking about what I was doing for even a second. Something was clear to me.
I used a gas station ATM to withdraw more money than I’d ever been compelled to take out at a time; especially because that money wasn’t for me. But my mission had become trance-like.
I walked the block to the bus stop which was in front of an apartment complex, probably the one of which they had just been kicked out. The woman was not there anymore and I asked the man if I could have a seat. He moved his marijuana cigarette, so I could sit and introduce myself. Ironically, the lanky man was named Napoleon. I produced the money and he suddenly started shaking as if he were cold. He still did not look at me, nor did he take the money, and I had to gently glide it into his hand for him, where it passively laid in between his clenched thumb and index. He said nothing, but tears filled his eyes. He didn’t count it. The woman emerged from the apartment complex with a bag and looked pointedly at me.
“You’re sitting awfully close to my man,” she said. I jumped up immediately, apologizing. Napoleon finally looked at me. “She’s the one that helped me charge my phone,” he answered, coming to my defence. The woman realized her premeditative judgement, her voice fell sheepish as she saw the cash, and said “I’m just kidding. Really! It’s fine. I didn’t mean to sound threatening!” And invited me to sit back down with them. Her name was Nadia. She was also slender, maybe too skinny, with fun hair, and a purple and black eye, that looked like it was in its healing stages.
I asked if I could pray with them, and the two fervently agreed. I wept the whole way through (I’m not particularly good at praying out loud) and I was nervous, but I thought it was nice. It was mostly about love and perseverance, things for which I felt strongly. I even got a few “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” from Nadia. Our hands unclasped, and before I completely rose to my feet, she pulled me back down by my hand.
“You feel deeply, don’t you?” She was intense.
I nodded, tears still falling without consent.
“That’s me too,” she smiled. “We feel others pain on a much deeper level than most… It’s a gift.” Still holding my hand, she looked at it and added, “Girl, you have got to stop biting your nails. That’s not good for your cuticles.”
Nadia was sweet, but definitely not someone with whom I’d care to quarrel. Finally, I offered them a ride, but they declined. And with that, I left.
Walking back into the gas station parking lot, a faint voice called, “Summer! Summer!” Nadia was running towards me, waving the cash. “What is THIS!?” She counted it. She attempted to give it back to me, asking “How old are you?”
She looked down. “So young…” Her voice drifted and she stuck out the money again. I shouldered it away from me, almost rudely.
“You know, it gets easier as you get older.” She finally said.
I’m not sure why she said that because it certainly didn’t seem like it -in her case at least. I got in my truck and drove away. I did not know what they were going to do with the money, or with the prayer. We had exchanged numbers, but I knew I’d still never know. And for some reason, that was okay with me.