Simple Acts of Kindness
“Here’s a dollar,” Mom says. “There are sandwiches in that machine.”
I’m still wearing my fur lined mittens and matching earmuffs. I slide off my glove, hesitant to take the bill. I wrinkle my nose in disapproval.
Mom waves the dollar in my direction. “It’s a long bus ride, you’ll be thankful you had something to eat.”
I glance at the row of Automat vending machines against the wall. Ham and fake cheese, turkey and fake cheese, roast beef and fake cheese. My stomach churns.
I tug at Mom’s arm so she would bend closer to me. I speak softly. “Is it even safe to eat?”
“Yes, it’s fine. Here’s another dollar, get me one too.”
Her confidence doesn’t persuade me. I glance around the room: bright florescent lights, well-worn orange cement floor, green vinyl chairs with coin operated television sets perched in front.
I wrinkle my nose again and reach for the money. We are preparing to return home from our annual pilgrimage to NYC—a Broadway musical, lunch at Tavern on the Green, the tree at Rockefeller Center, and shopping. My Christmastime birthday was the perfect excuse to hop on the NYC express bus and visit the city when she’s dressed up in her finest: the smell of chestnuts mixing with the crisp winter air while the Macy’s holiday window-displays reveal Santa’s elves working on toys for little girls and boys.
Inside Port Authority, however, the atmosphere is bleak; men and women with missing teeth hunched in oversized woolen coats and grimy faces lumber down the corridor, inhaling bus fumes. The stench of overflowing trash cans fills the terminal.
I purchase two sandwiches each cut into triangle halves, wrapped in cellophane—one ham and one peanut butter and jelly. I slowly unwrap the PB & J and sit in a vinyl chair and sniff. Grape. Cautiously, I take a bite, then a second.
A man with fingerless gloves and a ripped stocking cap leans across his chair, his nose inches from my ear.
“Can I have a bite?”
I widen my eyes and hold my breath. Slowly, I extract myself from the table/chair. I hold my sandwich and shuffle towards my mom. “I’m not hungry.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That man.” I turn my back to the stranger and point at my chest. “That man, he just asked me for a bite and now I don’t think I can eat any more.”
“Well then, give him your sandwich.”
“But my germs are on it.” I look back towards the man.
“He won’t mind, he’s hungry.”
I whisper, “But he smells.”
“Alison, not everyone has nice clothes to wear or food in their bellies.”
I shuffle back to the chair/desk, lay down the sandwich. I glance into the stranger’s eyes.
He smiles and nods a silent thank you.
I return his smile a little. I may only be ten, but I knew I had just done something good.