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Once there was a young woman who lived in the heart of New York City. Her name was Miranda, and she was never seen without an expensive handbag, stylish sunglasses, and her BlackBerry (whose keys her fingertips were constantly tapping). Her long brown hair was always tied back prettily, her nails were always covered in a fresh coat of nail polish, and her makeup was always flawless. Miranda was an intern at a law office downtown. To get to work each morning, Miranda took the city bus that stopped across the street from her apartment building.
At eight in the morning, the bus stop was always crowded and filled with people from all walks of life. Miranda always squeezed herself to the front of the crowd so that when the bus came, she could get a seat once she boarded.
Miranda wasn’t the only regular at this bus stop. In fact, there was one person who was there almost more dependably than she was. He was an old homeless man, always dressed in a dirty trench coat, black stocking cap, and worn-out old tennis shoes. He walked with a limp. He stayed in the back of the crowd at the bus stop, always staring at his feet. Miranda thought somewhere in the back of her mind “It’s probably because he smells bad,” whenever she saw him shuffle away from where she stood.
The old homeless man never seemed to have a MetroCard. He’d always scoop a handful of dirty change out of one deep pocket instead. Miranda made it a daily, almost subconscious task to never sit next to him. “Who knows what kind of dirt might be on his coat?” she’d think, touching the hem of her new, beautiful white blazer and opting to stand instead.
Sometimes the old man didn’t have enough change when he boarded the bus. “You’re seventy-five cents short,” the bus driver would tell him. The old man would then ask the passengers packed into the cabin of the bus, “Can anyone lend me seventy-five cents?”
Some kind person would almost always give him the money. The old man tried his best to keep his aging memory working, and if the person who had lent him the money was a regular, he’d usually repay them the next morning.
Miranda had never been one of the people to give him the money. She usually was seated and with her iPod on by the time the old man boarded the bus, so she couldn’t even hear his request.
One normal morning, the bus pulled into the stop with a squeal of the brakes, and the doors slid open. The bus driver that day had noticed the limping old man, and told the other passengers, “Wait a minute, everyone. Let him on first.”
The old man boarded the bus and thanked the driver. He put his change into the machine and sat down in a seat near the driver.
Miranda was the eighth person on the bus. As she reached into her jeans pocket to withdraw her MetroCard, she realized that it wasn’t there. She sighed and told the bus driver, “It’s okay. I have some change somewhere.” She took her wallet out of her purse and sifted through it. She did find some change, but she could tell even before she put it into the machine that it wasn’t enough.
“You’re seventy-five cents short,” the bus driver informed her.
Miranda looked up at the other people on the bus. Before she could even ask, “Does anyone have seventy-five cents?” the old homeless man shuffled up to Miranda and wordlessly dropped seventy-five cents into the machine.
Miranda looked at him in amazement. She ignored the fact that her BlackBerry was beeping and said, “Thank you, sir.”
He looked up at her, smiled warmly, and said, “You’re welcome.”
Four days later, the old man boarded the bus. He was short of change. He turned to face the people on the bus. Before he could ask “Does anyone have seventy-five cents?” Miranda squeezed her way up to the old man and handed him a dollar fifty in change.
“Seventy-five for you now, and seventy-five from four days ago,” she explained.
The old man smiled, and she smiled back.