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Angels Watching Over Me
“We’ll see you tomorrow Beth,” A young man called as he tossed a plastic garbage bag into the dumpster behind a small, street-side diner.
Elizabeth didn’t hear him; she was already half-way down the alley behind the old diner where she worked. As she began her long journey home, she closed out all the sounds of the bustling city; the cars passing and honking, people talking, people walking, the cries of birds and the roar of the ocean all became a quiet back-ground hum as she became lost in her own thoughts. She hung her head, letting her light brown hair fall neatly over her shoulders as she passed several men drinking from large bottles hidden in grocery sacks. One made a comment and the others laughed. She didn’t hear them. As soon as she’d passed them she raised her head a little, her light hazel eyes searching from under thick lashes as she began the monotonous journey home.
She sighed to herself, reflecting on her now increasingly monotonous life. Wake up at 5, go to work, work from 7 to 5 and begin the journey home. She didn’t know how much longer it would be like this. The small diner had been increasingly empty over the last year and today, the manager had approached her with some disturbing news.
“Beth, do you have a minute?” Mr. Davidson had asked
she’d looked around at the empty diner. Pedestrians hurriedly passed the windows, many on their way to eat at a café or coffee shop, but none would be coming to the diner. “Sure,” she said, she’d pulled up a chair for him and patted the table she’d been leaning against.
He smiled to thank her, but shook his head minutely, he felt better standing. “Beth, as you know, business hasn’t been very good lately.”
She nodded understandingly,
“And, I’m afraid we just don’t have any more savings we can pull on for employees. We’ve got to get this place updated or else it’ll die out altogether. I did some number-crunching, I really hoped I wouldn’t have to, but we’re going to have to let some of the employees go.”
She should have been devastated, but she could only sigh and nod. She’d known it would happen for a long time. She hadn’t really thought about it, but deep down, she’d known that it was coming sooner or later. “So you’re firing me.” She surmised,
“This is just a two weeks’ notice,” he said quickly, “You’re a good worker Elizabeth you really are. You’re on time, you do good work and you’re very loyal, don’t think you don’t cut it, you’re wonderful. We just can’t afford to pay for everyone for much longer.”
“How much can you pay me?” she asked,
“If business picks up-“ he began, then sighed and rubbed his temples, “I’m sorry Beth, we might be able to give you 50 for these next two weeks, but no more.”
She despaired now as she realized that she was actually about to lose her job. San Diego was a rough old town; there were gangs, mobsters, druggies-what chance did she have that she would find another job? She had looked long and hard just to get the one at the diner, the hours were dull and dragged on, the trip back and forth was long and tiring, but it had brought in enough money to keep her going. Now what would she do? It was getting increasingly hard to find a job she could work at. She was only medium height and slender build, not strong enough for labor jobs, office jobs weren’t an option either, she didn’t have the education for them. She sighed, knowing that when she got home, the land-lord would be back to nipping at her heels and demanding the rent she’d just managed to scrape out before. She could hear old Mr. Harley now. He’d pound on the door and yell, “Ms. Andersen!”
She would slowly open the door, almost cringing, knowing full well what was coming.
He would scowl at her and tell her around the thick cigar in his mouth. “Pay up, the rent’s due.”
She would stand there for a moment, unsure what to say.
“Don’t just stand there Andersen, pay up.” he would snarl.
“I don’t have any money,” she would say, “The diner closed and-“
“Then get out,” he would say and stand by the door until she collected her things and left. The scary part of the mental picture was that she’d seen him do it before.
Her feet seemed heavy as she walked and she had to drag them, wearing out the toes of her threadbare tennis shoes. As she passed shops closing down for the night, she couldn’t help but feel alone as the shop owners and employees would stop and give her a cold stare that seemed to say, “Just keep walking, you don’t belong here,” so she would hang her head and keep walking.
Her stomach growled dully and she wondered when she’d last eaten and if she’d have anything to nibble on when she made it to her shabby little tenant house that she could no longer pay for. A dumb thought, of course she wouldn’t. The cupboards were almost as bare as her wallet and she had to make it last now more than ever. She couldn’t afford to buy more. She honestly couldn’t afford anything right now.
She smiled faintly as a young mother herded her children out of a restaurant across the street and waved to her, smiling brightly. The two children followed the example of their mother and waved too.
She fell back into her thoughts as she made it to her bus stop and sat down to wait. She had about 100 dollars in savings and maybe 25 with her for bus fare and groceries. The rent each month was $200, her bus fare would take $50 for the next two weeks, but if the diner held out that long and if she was lucky, they might be able to get her 75 for her last month of work. So she would have $150 to live on when she was kicked out of her tenant house. She’d hoped she would have more; the small amount she came up with was discouraging. She had no car, and certainly couldn’t afford a cross-country bus to leave the city to look for a job. Even if she could, where would she go? Who would hire a 21-year-old girl with no college education who had been kicked out of a dirty old tenant house in Chula Vista and been fired because of bad business? She sighed as her bus pulled up and she stepped on, showing her daily ticket.
“Hi Beth,” the old bus driver smiled. His forehead wrinkled with concern when he saw her expression. “Why the long face?”
“Hi Bill,” she smiled weakly, and then gave up, “I’m losing my job.”
“Oh,” he was sympathetic; he understood the difficulty of job hunting for a young woman in a city such as San Diego. “Can I pay for your bus fare for you?”
She smiled again, but shook her head, “Thanks but, I can manage. I don’t think I’ll be here much longer.”
He shook his head, “I’ll miss you honey, good luck out there.”
“Thanks Bill,” she mumbled, and found a seat in the middle of the nearly empty bus and stared out the window. She felt so lost and empty. Empty just like the diner, empty just like the old bus. The world was empty.
The bus stopped again near a super-market to pick up passengers or to let people off. She leaned her head against the window and stared out at the people. How blessed most of them were they didn’t even know it: enough to eat, a roof over their heads, mortgage and land-lords, but hopefully with enough to pay them with. She wondered when they’d last thought about it.
Suddenly the picture of the mother and her children at the restaurant came to her mind. She smiled at their kindness. They didn’t know her, maybe they saw her walk that route home every day but they’d never talked to her, surely they didn’t know her name. They’d just been nice. Old Bill was always driving the evening bus. They’d been riding the evening bus together for some time now and respected each other. He cared about her; that was plain to see, he was a nice old man and wanted to make sure she was okay. He’d offered to pay her fare, that was not just a nice thing to do, that was miraculous. Bus fare in a big city like San Diego was not cheap, and even if he could only pay for her evening fare, it added up to maybe just enough to pay the rent for another month and hunt for a job. What was more miraculous was the sacrifice it was. Bill didn’t have much either although he made enough where he was well-off compared to Beth. Still, bus fare would cut those extra pennies down fast; it was heavenly of him to offer. Even knowing that someone cared enough to offer was comforting to her.
As the old bus rolled down the freeway, it passed a billboard she hadn’t noticed before. On it was printed in bold letters: “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in your ways. And they will bear you up in their hands…” Psalms 91:11-12
she stared at the billboard and continued staring at where it would have been as they passed. She blinked and repeated it over in her mind, “For he shall give his angels charge over you,” she smiled and felt a warm blanket of comfort wrapping itself around her. “And they will bear you up-“ Beth suddenly forgot all her worries, forgot that she was jobless, that she was homeless, that she had virtually nothing to eat. She would be borne up,
“What? What are you smiling at?”
She turned to the other bus passenger; it was a young man, maybe 25 years old. He was tall and thin and looked down himself, but her sudden smile had intrigued him.
She smiled, “There are angels watching over me.”