“Not everyone can be bought,” she said.
She stared down at her tattered clothes, dirt smudged across her jeans, her flip-flops disintegrating into nothing. She ran a hand through her greasy hair then looked up at him.
“I’m not trying to buy you,” he said.”I just want to help.” He stretched out his hand, the money folded neatly.
She turned her head, whether in shame or fear, he couldn’t tell.
“Here. I’m serious.” He pushed it toward her, willing her to accept help.
He had been coming to this Walmart food court during his lunch break for two months. The first time he had seen her, he had been surprised by her apparent filth and observed how everyone, employees included, steered clear of her. He would sit in his corner booth and watch her. Once, she caught him staring and sprinted out of the store, her face flushed red. After that, he was much more careful in his observations.
She was always alone and sat and fidgeted with her hair or ran her finger over the deep groove in the table. Always the same table. He could see how she could be attractive if she were given a shower and some clean clothes. Maybe a little makeup would even out her sun-worn skin.
It quickly became a habit for him, coming to this table, wondering what the girl did with her day. Did she sit here from the time the store opened until it closed? What did she do the rest of the day? Where did she live? Did she have a home?
Until one day last week, he had been content to be one of the many who observed her and left her to her own devices. It’s amazing how one moment can change so much.
He had come to lunch an hour later than usual that day, ordered lunch and sat in his booth. He almost forgot to look for the girl. Movement out of the corner of his eye and a quiet mouse-like voice caught his attention. The girl was standing at the corner of the lunch counter speaking to the elderly manager. He saw the manager nod his head and watched as she shuffled toward a table that contained two partially eaten meals. She sat down and ate as quickly as she could, her filthy hands shoveling food into her mouth with amazing speed.
He stood up and took his tray over to where she sat and set it on the table.
“You can have the rest, I’m finished with it.”
She stared at his tray, only one bite missing and carefully stretched out her hand to pull it toward her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
A week later, he stood in front of her with his hand outstretched offering half of his paycheck to a complete stranger so she could shower and maybe buy some new clothes. Her resistance was crushing.
He let the money fall onto the table and walked out.