Strangers on the street
Tonight as I walked up the street in my neighborhood, I was stopped by a slight woman who said she wanted to ask me a question. She thanked me for stopping when she knew I was clearly on my way somewhere. She told me her name was Shannon and that she needed some Pampers. She said she had the rest of the money but only needed $5. I asked her if the corner store had Pampers and said I could go buy them, but she said she didn’t want it to look like I was in there buying them for her. When I told her I didn’t have any cash, she told me the store had an ATM.
Shannon was not acting particularly strangely and seemed like a coherent person. When considering her request, I thought about this article I recently read. It tells the story of a radio host who regularly gave money to a guy at a freeway on-ramp he passed on his way to work. They came to know each other on a first name basis over time. Eventually the guy working the on-ramp was no longer there, but the radio host ran into him years later working at a restaurant. They talked, and the young man said that even though he sometimes used the radio host’s money to buy drugs, it helped him get through life until he could seek help, which he eventually did.
When the radio host handed the money to the panhandler, he didn’t know where it would go. He gave it unconditionally. He gave it because the person needed it, for whatever reason.
I decided I would help Shannon, and we began walking toward the corner grocer. Shannon told me that she didn’t want to prostitute herself. She told me a white man in a car (Shannon is black) wanted her to do sexual favors in exchange for money. I could’ve told her that we had something in common because a black man in a truck recently offered to “give me a ride wherever I wanted to go.” (And no, he wasn’t offering to be helpful.) But tonight wasn’t about me. I told her it didn’t matter what color the man was… it was still wrong of him to proposition her.
Shannon said niggers come in all colors. I told her I didn’t much like that word.
She told me that I would receive karmic gifts for helping her. I told her I wasn’t helping her to get good karma.
She told me she had tremendous pride, and I told her most people do. No one likes to ask for help.
We walked into the store, and the clerk explained to me that I could get up to $50, and he would just charge me extra like an ATM fee. I told him to give me $20, and he charged me $3.50 extra. Shannon stood beside me slowly repeating a silent prayer that I would give her $15.
I handed Shannon the $20. She was very appreciative. We got outside, and I asked her for a hug. I don’t know why, but I said, “I love you, Shannon.” And then I added, “Be safe.”
She told me to have a good night and said she was glad to have met me. I turned the other way and continued down the street to my destination.