The neon coffee shop reflection nabbed my attention as I walked through Union Station, so I made a sharp left towards it. It was mid-day and I had been across town for an appointment, so I figured a jolt of caffeine would be a suitable introduction to the pile of work awaiting me at the office.
Before I could reach the ordering line a woman stopped me. The isolation of living in a city sometimes hits me and I want to feel needed. I enjoy pointing tourists towards the Smithsonian or giving them directions to the closest metro. In those instances I feel less lost and more like I belong, which is rare (and sometimes scary) for me. This woman, wearing a black and white polyester blouse, began telling me that she had an interview at Jamba Juice. There was some kind of delay and somehow that left her stranded without money. I was trying so hard to anticipate where she was going with this that I may have missed why she needed money. She showed me a handful of quarters someone had given her and she looked away saying, “This is so embarrassing.”
She needed five dollars she said, but I missed the why. I knew I had $20 in my wallet – carrying cash has been one of the small ways I can hold on to my Peace Corps self – but I wasn’t sure if there was anything smaller.
“No one has cash,” she said, as I peered into my wallet carefully so she couldn’t see its contents.
I found a $5 bill and whipped it out. She let out a little scream as I forced it into her hands. I gave her one of my more sweet smiles and told her to take care.
There is a chance this was a con. Maybe she’ll use the money to buy drugs. Maybe she does this all day long. Maybe she chose me because I look the most gullible.
But there is also a chance that she really needed that money and I was her saving grace to quite an unfortunate, and embarrassing, situation.
For one less beer at happy hour, I will take my chances.
As I walked back to the office, I did not regret my decision. I told myself that I want to be the kind of the person who trusts people when they say they need help and are willing to give it to them. I want to be the person whose kindness and generosity put another person in a slightly better position than where she was moments before. I want to be the person who believes people’s intentions are good.
It wasn’t until later in the day that I realized that that is not the type of person I want to be. Rather, it is the person I am. Maybe that is naïve and reckless, but I do not care. It’s really who I am.