As I was heading back to my car from the salon today, a woman approached me on the street.
“Are you from here?” she asked.
“Sort of,” I said, coming to a stop next to her on the sidewalk.
“I need some directions, or–I’m trying to get back to Columbia, South Carolina, and I’m pregnant with twins…”
It was a jumble, but eventually I learned that her daughter, who has cystic fibrosis, was in a coma at MCG, and the woman had a check from the estate of a relative who’d just passed away, but the banks here wouldn’t cash it, so she had no money and needed to get back to her local branch to cash the check. And since she was pregnant and it was hot, she needed a lift back to her car. Her husband was in Iraq and didn’t even know he was having twins.
So I took her in the car and drove to the bank and withdrew $40 (I suggested $20, but she said it would take $40) and gave it to her along with my business card with my cell number written on the back. “Thank you so much. You’ll be in my prayers. I’ll come back and bring you $50,” she said. But I told her she didn’t have to pay me any extra.
As I was driving her to her car, near the 401 end of Walton Way, she had me do a U-turn to pass in front of a shop on Broad Street to see if her father’s car was there. He apparently owned it and also worked in the press room at the Augusta Chronicle. But his car wasn’t there. “That’s who I was looking for before,” she said, “but my stepmom changed the phone number so I can’t get in touch with them.”
We went on, and she started talking about how she felt tired and it was probably because she hadn’t had anything to eat all day. I had started to feel pretty stupid just based on how hard she was working to make her case, but this almost put me over the edge. I felt like I was being taken for a ride. And the thought that someone would lie about something like their daughter being in a coma just so they could swindle $40 off someone was so upsetting, I had to struggle not to start crying.
She was apparently fighting back tears too, as she remarked that her children hadn’t had anything to eat all day either. The hints weren’t all that subtle. I wouldn’t give her any more money, I decided. $40 was plenty. She surely didn’t need that much to drive to Columbia, anyway.
“Do you mind if we just pull into the Wendy’s and get them some chicken nuggets or something?” she said.
I was quiet for a moment. “Won’t that cut into your gas money?” I said.
“Well–well, it would…” she stammered. “Could you just charge it, and I’ll bring you back $50?”
I really, really wanted to say no. But what kind of person can let children go hungry? So I went to Wendy’s and got them two 10 piece chicken nugget combos.
Finally we arrived at a part of town where I really didn’t feel comfortable. “This is where you need to be?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “my nephews.” She started getting out of the car.
“Good luck,” I said, and patted her arm. “Have a safe drive.”
“Thank you. I’ll call you. Answer your phone!”
Then, driving off, I burst into tears.