Compassion — From My Archives

I hate doing my grocery shopping at night. Seems that’s when the really strange people come out of the corners and wander the store. I never feel quite safe walking around the produce and deli sections. Always have to keep my hand on my purse. You never know what one of those people will do.

“Hey, Mom,” my teenage son says to me about five minutes ago. “I need four dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale tomorrow.”

And guess who doesn’t have nothing in her cupboard to make his cupcakes.

“Make the boy get the stuff,” my husband grumbled. “He gotta learn.”

“He wouldn’t get the right stuff,” I answered. “He don’t know nothing about baking.”

“Suit yourself.”

I put on my raincoat and drove the four miles to the super market.

“Mama! Mama!” a little girl is screaming from the cart. Her mother, or at least I think it’s her mother, is on the other side of the aisle looking at the canned vegetables.

Somebody’s gonna come along and snatch that kid right up and that mother wouldn’t even know what happened. Probably wouldn’t care neither. Except she wouldn’t get her food stamps no more. Leaches on society. Should all have to get a job. Working flipping burgers is better then taking money from the government. Shame on them.

“Mommy!” That little girl’s got some lungs on her.

“What?” her mother says. She don’t really care what her kid needs.

“Mommy, I’m hungry!”

“I’m getting you something. We’ll eat in just a few minutes.”

“I want chicken nuggets! Or a taco!”

“We ain’t gettin’ nothin’ like that.”

“But I want it!”

That kid starts carrying on like she been slapped across the face. Probably would do her some good. That’s the problem with people these days. They don’t punish their kids. Just want to be their best friends. A good whipping never hurt nobody.

“We ain’t gettin’ no junk tonight, April. So shut up about it.”

How dare she talk to her little girl like that. I just about tell her off about that one. What kind of mother uses such language? I have half a mind to shake some sense into her.

That mother takes three cans of green beans in her hands. And, I swear, she puts them right into her purse. I kid you not. She looks up at me. She knows I seen her. She rushes over and pushes the cart and the little girl away from me.

I ain’t letting that go. No, sir. I take off after them. What right she got to steal them green beans? And right in front of her child. Ain’t right at all.

I peek my head around the corner and watch that woman slip a can of tuna into that purse. And she don’t stop there. Spam and crackers and a couple apples. I follow her all over that market. She sure does have a big purse.

“Hey, there,” I say, pulling aside a woman in a red polo shirt. “You work here?”

“Yup. Can I help you?” she asks.

“Sure can. You see that woman there. The one with the screaming kid?”

“Yes. But, ma’am, I don’t feel right telling her to keep the girl quiet. She’s just a tired little child. We see it here all the time. They’ll leave soon enough.”

“No. That ain’t the problem.”

“Well, then, what is the problem?”

“See that big ol’ purse? She been packing it full of food. She’s shop lifting.”

“Oh, my.”

“So, go get her.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate your concern. I’ll go talk to the manager.”

I go to the bakery. There are all kinds of cupcakes there. Might as well just pick up them. It’ll save me lots of time. I get myself a couple doughnuts to eat myself. I done a good turn today. Doughnuts are a good prize for me.

“No! Please!” A screaming voice from the other side of the store. “I’ll pay for it. Just let me pay for it!”

“Ma’am, we can’t have no one stealin’ from us.” I’m guessing that’s the manager.

“But they’ll take April. Put her in a home.”

“I’m sorry, lady. But that ain’t my problem.”

“Here. I’ll give you all the money I got in my wallet. It’s more’n enough to pay for everything.”

“Listen, if you had the money to pay, then why’d you think you should steal this stuff?”

“Cause that’s all I got. How am I supposed to pay for rent and food? I ain’t got a job.”

“Shame on her,” I say to the cashier as she scans the code on my cupcakes.

“Happens all the time.” The lady at the counter pushes buttons to ring up the doughnuts. “These look yummy.”

“Yeah. I got me a weak spot for sweets.”

“Don’t I know it. I got this gut to prove it.” She hands me the bags. “That’ll be $17.65.”

“I gotta write a check out.”

The manager’s pulling the shop lifter toward his office. April’s walking next to her, tugging on her hand.

“Mama? Where we going? I wanna go home.” April’s voice is so much smaller now. She’s so scared.

“I don’t know, baby,” her mother weeps. “Just don’t be scared. I’ll take care of everything.”

“But I don’t wanna go with no one. I wanna stay with you.”

“I know it. I know.”

“I’m still hungry, Mama. We ain’t had nothin’ to eat.”

“I know, baby.”

“Can’t even feed her child.” The cashier clucks her tongue. “What kind of monster. Probably spends all her money on drugs.”

“Probably.” I feel my heart breaking a little. Ain’t never felt so bad about doing the right thing before.

I tear the check out of my wallet and hand it to the woman. “You need my license?”

“Naw. You’re good.” Her drawer slides out and she puts the paper check inside. “Have a good one.”

I have to walk past the manager’s office to get out to my car. He’s in there with the woman and her girl. Both is crying and carrying on. It makes my stomach feel sick. I ain’t gonna be able to eat them doughnuts now.

April looks out the door. Her little girl eyes is so red and her mouth is so turned down. I can’t stand it no more. I look away.

Them doughnuts ain’t a good thing for a little girl to eat for dinner. I tell that to myself. But she ain’t got nothin’ else to eat. And the police’ll come and who knows where they gonna take her.

“Hey, little girl,” I call with my gentle voice. “I got something for ya.”

She looks up at her mother.

“I’ll bring it to you. You stay put.”

I walk in and hand her the two doughnuts. She don’t smile. I never expected that.

I also never expected how hard I’d be shaking as I walk out to my car.

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9 thoughts on “Compassion — From My Archives

  1. >Always makes me wonder what happens to people we run into at the grocery store once they leave. Are they going hungry being beat when they leave? Is going to the grocery store the only place they feel safe?Pretty sad.

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  2. >(for some reason, it's not letting me log in! — rob m.)That touches a nerve. Not the way I would've liked it to turn out, but then I like happy endings, which aren't as common as they ought to be. Tore me up how the little girl would not be happy about getting doughnuts, but after all that's going on in her little world, what kind of consolation is it? The kindness of a stranger delayed until it isn't really a kindness, but more of an insult. "Here, I helped ruin your life, have a doughnut." Ouch

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  3. >I've had this little flash fiction running in my mind for a time now. I wanted to leave it a little more open ended for the reader to draw a conclusion. And possibly to help people see things a little differently.How often, though, have I been too late to help and offered something far insufficient to the needs of another? I guess that's kind of my personal take on the story.

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  4. Pingback: I’ll Be Watching You « susiefinkbeiner

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