(Editor’s note: I wrote this four years ago. It reminds me how good people can be, and how good I need to be.)
The young woman ahead of me clutches some money in her hand and nervously watches the cashier scan each item. She plans to purchase about a dozen small food items and about $25 worth of clothes. She wears a black tank top, dark hair and can’t be older than her early 20s.
It’s not long before the girl realizes she can’t pay for everything and asks for some food to be removed from her bags.
The cashier painfully removes some food items one by one, then at the girl’s behest, returns a couple of items. I watch with interest, with a checkout nightmare blog brewing in my head. The clothes and some food are set aside to be returned to the store.
“I’m so bad at math,” the young woman stammers as the cashier realizes there’s still a difference of $12 to settle. The worker patiently begins searching through some other grocery bags to see if there’s anything else that can be returned to make up the difference.
I turn to a well-dressed lady to my left in line and give her a knowing look. Can’t this girl add? It’s a look that says we’re in this checkout nightmare together.
It was then the well-groomed older woman teaches me a lesson I will never forget. She reaches into her purse and hands some money to the cashier.
“Here, see if this will help,” she says with a smile.
It’s a $20 bill. The young girl’s mouth drops open.
“I’ve been there before,” the other woman says.
“Now that’s really cool,” I spontaneously exclaim out loud with a big smile on my face. The woman adds an additional $10 just to make sure.
By now we find out the younger woman is behind on her rent with her boyfriend. Christmas may not be so merry this year.
The cashier rings up all the original food items and clothes she was planning to purchase from the beginning. The boyfriend returns to the line in time to see everything unfold. He looks embarrassed.
When his girlfriend tries to return $12 in change to her benefactor, the older woman pauses and then gives it back.
“Take your boyfriend out for dinner. Merry Christmas.”
The grateful couple say thank you and eventually walk off together with their bags.
I think of the $800 kicker check burning a hole in my pocket. We have our own struggles but I could have helped. I miss a chance to make a difference.
I turn to the woman putting items on the belt.
“Thank you for teaching me a lesson.” I tell her.
A good lesson for us all.