Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ten Minutes

   10:51. Gonna be late for work and I still need gas, ____ thinks.
               She sips her coffee. And my coffee is cold.
               One mile faster. Two miles faster. Let’s push the limit. 75 miles per hour.
               An orange flash in her left eye. The gas light is on.
               10:52. Gonna be late for work, cold coffee, out of gas, she thinks.
               A white flash in her right eye. Her phone.
CNN: Woman Rams SUV in Drive-Thru for “Slow Ordering”
               10:53. Gonna be late for work, cold coffee, out of gas, stupid news story.
               Swerving, squealing, apologizing to the windshield. The red minivan flashes down the interstate.
               One mile slower. Two miles slower. I’ll be late anyways. 72 miles per hour.
               10: 55. Turning off at the exit. Gas light seems brighter.
               Station in the distance. $3.59. You’re kidding me.
               Sighing, ____ pulls in and parks at pump seven.
               10: 57. Wallet open, orange credit card. Swipe, caching caching, she thinks.
               The numbers go up together. One gallon, three. Two gallons, zooming past seven. Money comes, money goes.
               Black in her left eye. A woman walking closer. She’s speaking.
               “Miss,” she says, “Miss.”
               ____ turns her head to the woman. Medium height, stringy brown hair. Gray, sagging clothes. Her eyes. They’re full of gray and crawling towards the anticipating pool of anxious wetness that ____ can’t take her eyes off of.  
               “No thanks, I’m busy,” the words crawl up the back of her throat, but she swallows them. Those eyes.
    Okay, I’ll let her talk.
               “Ma’am I just move here from Chicago and I don’t have a car and I been tryin’ to provide for my kids I have six of ‘em and I went to try and get some financial help—“
               Here we go. She probably wants drugs. Or alcohol.
 “—and they said they’d give me a little money for groceries even though they don’t normally do that for people but they said they’d make an exception and all I been tryin’ to do is get enough money to buy a bus ticket and I done started over this is a new life for me and I do anything to just get a bus ticket and—“
“Ma’am,” ____ stops her.
“Yes ma’am,” the woman takes a breath, rolling back on the balls of her feet.
“I don’t have any cash with me. All I have is my debit card,” ____ says, “and I’m gonna be late for work.”
10: 59. Gonna be late for work, no gas, cold coffee, stupid news story, homeless woman.
The words seem salty and bitter. They swish around in her brain, puddling up into clumps of mud, drying into clay that falls apart.
The woman starts to frown, breaking eye contact. “I understand ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you for too long.”
Gonna be late for work, no gas, cold coffee, stupid news story, homeless woman.
Homeless woman.
Homeless woman.
Two arms, two legs. We’re all humans on this Earth. Two arms, two legs. All in this together.
“I just want you to know that I’ll be praying that things get better for you and your children. God bless you, okay?”
The words choke out of ____’s mouth before she thinks twice.
The woman looks back into her eyes. Eyes locked. Tears pooling. Both crying. A moment.
An unmoving moment.
The numbers on the gas pump stop moving, the coffee disappears, the impatience of this world is gone.
Slow. Patient. Stopped.
“God bless you too, ma’am,” she whimpers, “That’s the nicest thing anybody said to me today. God’s truth.”
You reach out your arms to hug her, her swishing jacket rubbing against yours, her body pressing into yours like a cushion.

               But everyone knows that’s not how the story goes.

                   “I can’t help you,” and in that one, unforgiving moment, you turn your back.


  1. AnonymousMay 28, 2013

    This is my favorite story. I have goosebumps from the reality of this. If only the world were more like the first ending. It would be a much better place.

    1. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, the world is full of people that can't realize we're all in this together.