The young man sat hunched over in his old wheelchair. It was the kind you roll with your hands, not an electric model. An overturned baseball cap was held out by chapped, bare hands.
My daughter and I had walked three blocks on a blustery January afternoon. We’d passed by six parking meters, each one labeled “FAIL”.
“It’s an epic fail!” I told Monique before we found a spot even further from the downtown area. We were going out for bubble tea. Bubble tea is a tea-based drink with tapioca balls added to it. As we rounded the corner near our destination, the young man in the wheelchair called out, “Can you spare any change?”
I knew I’d just dug out most of my change to feed the parking meter. I had no bills on me, either. I told the worn-looking man with the chiseled features that I’d look but I wasn’t sure I had anything.
“Anything at all; that would be fine. Thank you very much!”
I regretted not packing several loonies or toonies loose in my purse as per my usual habit. I scrounged up two toonies in the very bottom of my purse. Thankful to have something, I dropped them in the man’s cap.
“I’m sorry, buddy, that’s all I have on me.”
“God bless you!”
Monique and I said good-bye to him and turned away. Bubble Tea Express was nearby.
“Wait! I’ve got something for you!”
Monique and I exchanged glances. We were puzzled. What could he possibly have for us?
Something was in his outstretched hand, beckoning us to come closer.
“Here’s a gift card for $10. I was given this but I’ve no way of getting to Zehr’s. You can use it. It’s yours!” he told us.
“Well, let me buy you something for $10. That’s only right…” I said to him.
My daughter had a look on her face that made me think twice. I’ve been known to be gullible in the past.
Was this some kind of scam? Offer a gift card, secure in the knowledge that the gullible recipient would offer cash for it?
I didn’t want to think like that but I did. I admit it. I’m not painting too nice a picture here, that’s for sure.
How many people have stopped to give this man cash today? It was early afternoon. How many “used” gift cards were already been handed out? Surely, we weren’t the first…
I told the man we’d buy him something at the grocery store when we used the gift card. The nearest Zehr’s was a distance from here.
“Do you think you could just buy me a fries and pop instead? Save you the bother of having to come all the way back?”
His words made me even more suspicious.
You don’t want me to go to the store first. Because I’d find out the gift card had only a few cents remaining on it, right?
“No, it’s no problem. When we use the card, we’ll come back with something for you. Thanks again!”
Monique and I ducked out of the cold. We settled on a hot tea for Monique and a frosty tea for me. Like a slushie.
I’ve read before that it’s good to drink cold things on cold days and hot things on hot days. I don’t know. I just felt like a slushie. When I was burning up with the hot as Hades heat in Haiti, the first lunch served at our camp was spicy hot spaghetti, made with tuna fish. I didn’t eat it. I didn’t think I could handle being any hotter. A couple of days later, I ate whatever was in front of me. Two choices: take it or leave it. I was a quick learner!
When my daughter and I finished our drinks, we didn’t see the young man in the wheelchair as we headed back to our car. It was extremely cold out. I was glad I didn’t see the man. He would’ve risked frost-bite with his bare hands.
With my mind occupied on the heavy traffic, I forgot to stop off at Zehr’s on my way home. When I remembered the gift card, my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to check the balance on it.
I searched on-line without any luck. I flipped over the gift card. There, on the back of it, was a 1-800 number to call to check the card balance.
I called and waited on hold for a few minutes. Then, an automated voice, that sounded like Stephen Hawking, spoke to me:
“Your card balance is 10 dollars.”
I felt like I was punched in the heart. My heart ached for the man. We had doubted him and suspected him of pulling a fast one on us.
I bet he only had one gift card. It wasn’t a scam. He hadn’t passed out that gift card to anyone else probably because no other person had stopped today.
You’ve heard it said, “God will pay you double for your trouble.” It’s a take on the biblical verse:
Zechariah 9:12: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
I like to think the man will be blessed for all of his struggles.
As for me, I’ve tucked a twenty-dollar bill in my purse for the man. To do my part in following through with his gift card. Repaying him double.
I haven’t seen him again. But, I’ve sure our paths will cross once more. Unless, the point of our paths merging was solely to teach me to be more trusting.