She arrived around three in the morning. I saw her through the picture window as she was approaching the store. She was walking quickly, and I could see that she was weeping. Once inside the store, she headed straight for the counter.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
She sidestepped the question. “Can I use your phone? I’ll give you a couple of bucks.”
“You don’t need to give me any money,” I said, handing her the phone. I thought it was sad that she felt she couldn’t approach me with a simple request for help. Or perhaps she was reluctant to present herself as a supplicant. Paying her way would soften the transaction.
She took the phone and hid herself in the last aisle to make her calls, probably partly so she could have privacy and partly because it doesn’t feel right to loiter in a store, even if there is a very good reason to do so. After she had been on the phone for five minutes or so, she looked over her shoulder at me to see if she was overstaying her welcome.
I spoke with her a few times over the course of an hour while she tried to call friends for help. It was during one of these brief exchanges when she told me her name. Adrian was apologetic and seemed ashamed of her lack of composure. She was crying uncontrollably, her tears blending with her mascara to create inky puddles on her cheeks, which she kept wiping away. I offered her clean napkins and eventually got around to asking her what had happened.
She told me that her boyfriend of four years had just stolen the money out of her purse and shoved her out of his car onto the side of the road. If he gave any explanation, Adrian didn’t relate what he had said, but he kept her cell phone and her pet dog in the process, leaving her stranded in the middle of the night. She had walked two miles and was still miles from home.
I couldn’t do much for her other than to offer her a bit of human kindness. I gave her the small amount of money I had with me and told her it was going to be all right. I wanted to do more, but on the other hand I have no way of knowing how much my small ministrations helped. Surely she needed to be cared for after being abandoned by someone she was so close to. She kept apologizing, but I was glad she had come to my store. Because she had, I was placed in a position to make sure she was treated right. For all I know, other all-night establishments might have told her to move on.
I reflected on the fact that I had been blessed with the opportunity to comfort a stranger in distress. I was able to only because of her vulnerability. If she hadn’t been forced to ask for help, I wouldn’t have been able to give it. And that’s the way the world operates for the most part, certainly in America, where the ideal is to get everything you need and want for yourself. It’s fashionable not to have to ask for help. Meanwhile, we go around wrapped in ego, afraid to look frail.
The random convergence of events that evening cut through all the barriers: distrust, pride and shyness. The crisis at hand had forced us to circumvent the usual alienation. Why can’t we do this with strangers regularly and deliberately? Whatever the reasons, this whole situation was an example of how otherwise negative events can manage to bring about good things in the mix. Adrian had been hurt and would surely suffer some prolonged pain because of what had been done to her. But on the other hand, she received kindness from a stranger when she sorely needed it. The world may have presently been clothed in savage garb, but it was still turning after all.