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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Generous, Kind Stranger (Part I)

(Originally published on my blog Writer's Block on 5/21/2011) 

While my wife Tammy counted change from her purse for the tip, I grabbed the small meal ticket. It was torn off of one of those stereotypical little, mass-produced check pads that every waitress in every small town diner uses to take down orders and leave as the bill. I mentally double-checked the amount, wary of the big-haired country waitress' math skills. Finding everything satisfactory, I looked up just in time to stop from running into said big-haired country waitress, appropriately named Betty. She skillfully dodged, lifting her heavy tray of fried food and iced teas out of my way.

"Sugah, you better watch your step... you're liable to get grease all down that fancy coat you got on if you knock this outta my hands!"

"My apologies... guess I'd better start looking where I'm going, eh?" I replied casually. Holding up the check, I asked, "Do I pay you for this?"

"Yep... Lemme pass this food out, so them hungry kids can get eatin', and I'll be right there."

I stood at the counter, watching Betty set plates of food at a table of hungry kids. Four boys, none older than 14, and a girl that looked about 9, all too skinny for their own good, sat at a booth. A skeleton looking couple, their parents, sat at the table behind them. Their clothes were all worn, and their meals were all meager.

Betty skimmed back to the counter, dropped her tray on the kitchen window, and stepped up to the register.

"Your ticket was $14.76," Betty read off the little paper I handed her along with a twenty.

I glanced over my shoulder at the raggedy family, and then turned to find Betty looking me right in the eye.

"There a problem, mistah? Not everyone is made of money," she snipped, assuming I was judging the family, the town, her with my "hoity-toity city" attitude.

"No, ma'am, thanks for the food," I said with an apologetic tone, turning around to meet my wife at the door. Halfway, I stopped. An idea struck. I walked quickly back to Betty's counter and dropped a $100 bill down beside the register. I glanced back to the family over my shoulder, then turned and made sure to meet Betty's eyes. She nodded slightly, recognizing my gesture, and started to say something. I cut her off by raising my hand, turned, and walked to my wife.

We stepped out onto the sidewalk, the twilight and brisk evening air making for a peaceful and enjoyable time to walk back to our car. We weren't quite ready for the long drive back to the city, to our uptown condo, to home, so our pace was slow. Near the diner entrance, a man sat, obviously homeless, with a mangy, scraggly mutt curled up in a wool overcoat on the ground next to him and a cheap, torn hat sitting in front of him. Coins peppered the inside of the hat -- coins I had seen the littlest boy and the little girl drop into the hat... coins that they plainly needed themselves. Tammy smiled at the man and dropped a $5 bill into the hat. I'd have left more, but my wallet was empty, the contents now feeding the large, tired family inside.

As we walked past the diner windows, I noticed the little girl, face against the glass, watching us leave. My wife smiled and waved, which the little girl returned. The rest of the family was facing Betty, who had walked over to them, holding out the $100 bill with tears in her eyes.

We crossed the street and were halfway down the block when we heard the little bells on the diner door jingle. As the little girl ran out into the street towards us, a car shot around the corner a few blocks down, keeping full speed and not slowing as it raced in our direction.

It took my brain a moment to process what was happening in front of me... the car, the girl, the speed, the distance... If I hadn't hesitated, I probably would have had the time to get her and get out of the way. It was too late for that, but that didn't stop me. I knew I had to get that girl out of the path of that car, so I tore into the street. I made it to the girl in time to grab her and set her onto the sidewalk, out of harms way... unfortunately, I wasn't on the sidewalk. I was still in the street.

The impact of the car shattered my body, throwing me over the car, and thrusting my world into black.

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