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The Bigger Picture
Today is a horrible day. I sink further into my jacket that is two sizes too big with a huge, gaping hole in the back. I rub my hands together quickly, causing friction which produces heat. I sigh at my discomfort and my breath escapes my lips in a smoky form. I can’t feel my toes though I have two pairs of socks on. I mutter profanities as I stare at the small space heater nestled loosely in the wall. A week ago it broke, which leaves me freezing in this grubby discount store that I’ve been working at for way too long. I don’t get paid enough to sit behind this grimy counter, argue with every stubborn customer that waltz’s in, and have to baby sit the owners daughter on most of my working days. I’m dying to quit. But where would I be then? Nowhere pleasant.
The occasional ding at the front door did nothing to capture my attention. I was focused on staying warm. A tall, old man with ashy elbows and fly-away white wisps of hair made his way up to the counter. He smiled at me but the cheerful action didn’t reach his eyes that seemed slightly blood shot.
“I’m going out on a limb here.” His voice was soft in volume but yet rough like he had just woken up. “I figured ya’ll might sell Depends.”
I blushed slightly while nodding. “We keep them in the back.”
I stepped out from the counter and made my way to the merchandise the man was wanting. He followed. I took the only package of Depends and handed them to the man.
“How much will this be? I don’t see a price.” He sounded nervous in an odd way.
I examined him curiously, narrowing my eyes. Before I could answer the man dropped the box violently and hurried to pull something from his back pocket. It was a handkerchief and it was stained with something I was afraid to recognize. He pulled it to his mouth and started to cough. The sound made me cringe in disgust and in horror. I stood frozen, unsure of what to do.
Finally, he wiped his mouth and stuffed the bloody handkerchief into his pocket once again. Traces of smeared blood still blemished his lips. “I’m sorry.” He whispered and then cleared his throat. “Tuberculosis can be a pain.” He chuckled a bit while I stood staring and frightened. He slowly leaned down to reach the box of Depends and cradled it against his chest in a bovine manor. “How much did you say these were?”
“Sir.” I finally found my voice to say. “I think I should call someone to help you.”
He shook his head with a loose smile, “It happens all the time. No big deal.”
My heart sank with his words. Pity loomed over me and I took a step closer. “But are you okay?”
He opened his mouth to reply but then snapped it shut. And from his gentle, gentle brown eyes, tears were forming. “Times are hard these days.” He said, his strong voice cracking with every word. I only nodded but he didn’t see me because he was looking to the ground, embarrassed by his emotions that overwhelmed him. He continued, tugging at the box that was in his arms, “I need to buy these for my son. He has this… Illness.” His frame shook with the word.
I tried to whisper words of comfort but nothing escaped my mouth but short surprised breaths. “My daughter.” He cleared his throat roughly once again. I could see that the action was excruciating… Or maybe it was just the subject that filled him with anguish instead. “She had the same disease. And it killed her.” He paused. “They say my son has only a few weeks left.” The cold air around me closed in, smothering me. I could only imagine how he felt. Tears stung at my face but I fought them back.
He looked up to me, broken. “All I have is ten dollars, is that enough?”
I looked away to cover my shocked expression. I couldn’t bring myself to meet his eyes. “Sir, take them.”
He stood still. Out of disbelief or surprise, I wasn’t sure. “If it’s more I could pay you back when I have the money.” I laughed without finding anything amusing. “No. Please just take them. And if you need more, take those as well. I’m sure we’ll have more boxes come in.”
“I-” He chocked on his words. “I don’t know what to say.”
I took in a deep breath. At last I found the courage to look back up to him. “Say okay.”
I could see in his eyes the gratitude that I couldn’t fathom. “Okay.” He said while turning very slowly on his heels, like I would change my mind at any moment. I watched him walk away until he was out of sight. I slowly made my way to the front and from the window I could see the man getting into his beaten car. And as he pulled away with tear stained cheeks and blood on his lips, I began to cry. I quickly placed a fifty dollar bill from my purse into the cash register with blurry vision. And suddenly, so very suddenly, the shop wasn’t that cold. The hole at the back of my jacket wasn’t all that gaping. The small and broken space heater to my right was no longer an enemy. And just as suddenly I came to the conclusion that today wasn’t all that horrible.