He held up a sign that read “Need money for train ticket home – $9 short. Thank you”
He stood quietly next to the ticket dispenser machines. He was young and looked down sheepishly. His skin glistened with the sweaty sheen of stale panic. He was also black in a sea of white — and people standing in the ticket line – including her – gave him one glance before they made him disappear from their sight. She waited her turn in the long twisty line while person after person walked past him and pretended he was not there.
She waited and wondered how he had come up $9 short. She waited and wondered if his mother was worried about his whereabouts.
When it was finally her turn to buy a ticket, she walked right past him, no eye contact, just like everyone else.
While she punched in her request, she wondered what logic was allowing her to overlook his circumstance, one that was easily within her ability to address? If she didn’t acknowledge him, then it couldn’t be her problem to solve? If he didn’t even exist in her head, then there was actually no problem at all? If she solved this problem, she was only perpetuating the real problem? If she gave him money, she was just allowing herself to be victimized?
She waited for the tickets to print out and thought about what $9 meant to her. She waited and thought about her own young daughters and the foolish choices they made all the time.
Before she finished her transaction, she turned and tapped him on the shoulder to ask where he was headed. Then she turned back to the machine and bought him a ticket home. She shoved the ticket into his grateful hand and he thanked her. Then he rushed off to catch his train – and she rushed off toward her own train, the one that would carry her to her own home and to her own children.
She left feeling that – despite all the logical reasons not to give him a ticket – she got much from the exchange, something that was worth more than $9.