The Kindness of Strangers

January 12, 2009
By Danielle Plant, Lyn, ZZ

A young teen girl halted her steady march outside a retail store, pausing to smooth shaky hands over her wrinkled white long sleeve shirt. Trying to be subtle she looked up from under her lashes at the reflection presented to her in the store window, taking in her appearance to see how flawed it really was.

Unhappily she noticed there were a few more dirt stains on the white shirt- not to mention her face and other visible skin- then there had been the last time she’d worn it- the passed weekend when she had been out of the same mission she found herself on that particular day. To add to her frumpy looking shirt and unsatisfactory appearance were a casual pair of jeans she wore with holes in the knees and frayed bottoms no matter the fact that she had tried hard to take good care of them and keep them in impeccable condition.

Unfortunately for her that hadn’t worked out.

Finally, counting against her was the mess of black hair, tangled and sticking up all over the place, and though you couldn’t tell by looking, it hadn’t been washed in more than a week. She wasn’t starting out the day well and there was nothing she could do to change that.

Self-consciously she brushed her fingers through her hair in an attempt to flatten it and bring more order to her appearance. After a few minutes of this with no results, she gave it up and with a frustrated sigh let her hand drop to her side where she clenched it to brace herself for what would come next, her other hand clasped firmly around a piece of paper.

She took a deep breath before stepped up to the glass door that provided a view of a tidy store filled with shelves of food, racks of clothing and almost anything else you could hope to find.

Upon pulling the door open, a bell tinkled to announce her presence to any employee’s on floor whose job it was to provide assistance to any potential customers.

She let the door fall shut behind herself, taking in people walking back and forth, checking out something here and there before moving on or adding it to their carts.

She let her gaze drift towards an open cash within sight of the door where a middle-aged woman was busy scanning items and helping customers in line, not even sparing a look towards the door that had just opened.

With her eyes lowered to the floor, the young teen made her way towards the line-up of people at the cash where she stood in line silently, trying to draw as little attention to herself as she could while she waited her turn.

Against her hopes trying to appear invisible didn’t work out.

If she was honest with herself- which she was- she hadn’t really expected it to work out and really wasn’t surprised to feel eyes on the back of her head. She could just imagine the disgusted, disapproving looks some of the shoppers were shooting her way and abstained from looking up to meet some of these looks. She really didn’t need the reminder of what she looked like. Her nerves were bad enough as it was.

As the last person in line in front of her finally moved out of the way, the teen took her place in front of the cashier, butterflies bouncing around in her stomach uncomfortably as she finally raised her soft brown eyes to meet the suspicious green ones of the employee.

The look being directed at her really didn’t help with her uneasiness and caused heat to rise on her cheeks from embarrassment, and a desperate struggle to keep her gaze straight ahead and steady on the woman looking at her like she was a piece of particularly disgusting garbage on the bottom of her shoe.

It was a battle that she almost lost. Her gaze wavered momentarily before she managed to even it out and push on ahead bravely. More so then she felt.

“Umm… excuse me; I-I was just wondering if maybe I could drop of a resume?” She stuttered briefly before she managed to catch herself, and hoped it hadn’t been too noticeable. She needed to appear confident if she had any hope of getting so much as a second glance.

“What’s a little girl like you doing looking for a job? Shouldn’t you be in school or something? It’s a Friday, you know.” The woman’s voice was rough and careless, showing just how interested she was in the conversation. That wasn’t a good sign.

“It’s a day off. I’d just really like to get out there and start getting experience now, and I was hoping that maybe you were hiring here…” She trailed off dejectedly, recognizing the lack of interest on the workers part, something she’d already seen that day and which usually meant her resume would be in the garbage or at the bottom of the not suggested pile before she could even make it out of the store. That was the way things had been for ever since she had started job hunting a week ago.

At first it hadn’t started out so bad. That had coincided with just how good the condition of her clothes and appearance had been in and it had slowly gotten worse as the way she looked had.

The honest reason she was out looking for a job was that she had found herself out on the street a week ago when her mother had chosen her new boyfriend- who happened to hate kids- and the security his money brought over her own flesh and blood.

Without even pausing to think about it she had told her daughter that she was no longer welcome at the little trailer they called home and was expected never to come back again.

So, not knowing what else to do and eyes brimming over with tears she hadn’t been able to stop, Cassie had packed up all of her possessions- which were meager at that- and had promptly been shoved out the door quite literally by her mothers lazy and hateful boyfriend.

Now here she was, doing everything she could to find a job so she could afford food for herself at night and hopefully, eventually a place to stay that wasn’t an abandoned old building, dark and dank where anyone could stumble across her and murder her in her sleep.

Just thinking about it caused the tears to start to well up in her eyes again- tears that had been coming and going almost non-stop since the betrayal of the one person who was supposed to be there for her no matter what. Her father had died when she was a toddler so there was no help there.

“I just- I just really need this job, ok? Please, please consider it.” Disheartened, brown optics welling with barely suppressed tears, her gaze faltered; falling to the countertop she had rested her hands and her resume on, in hopes of the woman taking it from her.

“Alright, whatever kid, just give it here. Can’t really promise you anything though, we’re not even hiring right now.”

Cassie nodded infinitesimally, hopes crashing, though they hadn’t been high in the first place.

It wasn’t until she had almost made it to the exit when someone came shuffling up behind her, calling out in a small voice. “Excuse me, excuse me young lady.”

Cassie turned around to see if she was the one being addressed, barely managing to quell the sudden hope that had risen unbidden in the pit of her stomach at the possibility that she might actually be getting a break for once.

When she turned, she saw an elderly woman, leaning on a cane as she hobbled towards her. Cassie bit her lip in an attempt to fight back the tears that were threatening to pool over once again. She had hoped it was the worker, but instead it was just another customer, holding towards her what Cassie recognized as the necklace she usually wore, which seemed to have pooled without her notice from her neck.

With a weak attempt at a smile, Cassie held out her hand and mumbled a small, though heartfelt thanks, glad at least that she hadn’t walked away without the one thing of value she might actually have- even if it wasn’t worth much.

“You know, I couldn’t help but overhear that you were searching for a job. Mighty young you are, aren’t you?”

“15 ma’am.” She answered politely, shooting the elderly woman a questioning look.

“Well, you see, I just might have something for you if you’re interested. I’ve been looking to hire myself someone who could help me with housework and looking after my dog because I’m just getting too old for it all. If you think you’d be interested…?” The woman trailed off, allowing for Cassie to jump in with an acquiescence or denial.

“I…I,” Cassie stuttered, completely taken off guard, mouth hanging open in surprise at the unexpected offer.

“Now I mean, I can’t promise how long it’ll last because someone’s supposed to be coming to live with me, and it might not end up working out between us, but if you think you might want to try it, I’d be willing to give it a shot if you could show me you’re up for it.”

“Of course, definitely. I would really, really appreciate that,” Cassie almost fumbled over her words trying to get them out so great was her gratitude.

“Well, then, you can come on over to my place and we can talk about it a bit more, I can get to know you a bit, make sure you can handle it and when you can work. Are you busy now to do an official interview?” The elderly woman pushed on, taking command of the conversation like she didn’t even notice the less then confident way Cassie’s words came up, and the well of emotion evident on her face at the kindness being shown to her.

Here was a complete stranger showing her a kindness she had never before been witness to, offering a young, unclean girl the job she was so desperately seeking where anyone else’s first instinct was to metaphorically shut the door in her face. Her own mother hadn’t shown her two seconds of kindness in her whole life, topping that off with the fact that she had thrown her out of her own house without a second thought.

The kindness of stranger’s was sometimes the most meaningful thing that could happen in someone’s day, and Cassie found herself privy to that experience, no longer feeling so down on her luck.

With one nod she agreed, unable to verbalize her assent passed the lump of emotion in her throat and without a further word between them, she followed the elderly woman out the door, finding a trust for someone she had just barely met.

Maybe she would be fine after all. Even if there was no promise for how well the job would work out, it was something and one she would gladly take if it filled her belly that night and for nights after. It was a start.

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