The following actually happened. In a major American city. A guy emailed me about it.
A young woman is in Dollar General. A mother of two. Shopping. She has her kids in tow. They are dressed in ragged clothes that look like they’ve been washed too many times.
The woman’s oldest daughter is pushing the cart. She is maybe 12. The girl says, “Mom, can’t we get a frozen pizza?”
“No, sweetie,” says Mom.
The girl is skin and bones. “Please?”
“I already told you. We can’t afford pizza.”
Mom says they have to spend money on the kinds of food that will feed a family. Cheap, bulk-item foods. Dried beans. Rice. Pasta. Tomato paste. Flour. Sugar. Frozen pizza is a bridge too far.
The mother weaves her buggy through the aisles, assembling a piecemeal shopping list, squeezing every nickel. She is constantly tapping prices into a calculator before putting the item into her cart.
There are other things in the basket besides food. Other necessities. Socks. Toothbrushes. There are elastic hair bands. Shampoo. Bars of soap. It all adds up.
The boy is maybe 5. He asks his mother if she will buy him something. The boy wants, of all things, a box of crayons.
He asks his mother softly. Almost too softly. As though the boy already knows what her answer will be. And it turns out, the kid is right.
“Put them back,” Mom says. “We can’t buy fun stuff today.”
“Okay,” he says quietly.
“I’m sorry,” Mom says. “We don’t have money. Mommy is looking for a job, she swears.”
“But Mom, I thought you already had a job.”
“Mommy is looking for a new night job.”
The boy returns the crayons to the shelf. And he makes sure the box is sitting proud before he peels himself away from them.
The family keeps meandering through the store. They help her find all the things she needs. Mom is constantly tapping numbers into the calculator.
The oldest daughter picks up a sports bra.
The daughter whispers to her mother.
Mom shakes her head. “It’ll have to wait. It’s too expensive.”
The family keeps searching through the aisles for items. There are lots of pleasantries that don’t make the cut. Such as the hot chocolate mix. The scented candle. The spray starch. The paper towels.
Soon their cart is full.
When they approach the checkout lane, the cashier has something waiting for them.
The cashier hands the young mother a few shopping bags. The bags are full of newly purchased items. “Here,” says the cashier.
The mother’s face is one of confusion. “What’s this?”
“Someone bought all this for you.”
Mom sifts through the bags of recently purchased things. Inside are three frozen pizzas. A box of crayons. A sports bra.
“Where did this come from?” asks Mom.
The cashier jerks a thumb over her shoulder. “Some guy paid for it. He left it here and told me to give it to you. Then he just left.”
“What guy?” says Mom.
The cashier shrugs. “Maybe you got a guardian angel.”