Something amazing happened to me today.
If you have never been bottom-of-the-barrel broke for a decent length of time then you cannot truly understand that horrible feeling when the cashier tells you that you can’t use your loyalty points because the server is down. That sick sinking feeling that happens as you come to the realization that you have to pay full price when you were counting on having the extra $5 the points would have saved you to buy the meat for dinner. That if you want to eat now you won’t later or if you want to eat later you can’t eat now.
I experienced this feeling again today at the coffee shop. I only ordered a small coffee and a ham and cheese croissant. It’s all I could afford if I used the points I’d saved up to pay for the coffee. My total was only $10.90 but I had been counting on using my points to bring it down to $6. Then she told me the system was down.
Everything stopped. My heart sank and suddenly began racing 100ks an hour at the same time and I started shaking. In the space of about four seconds I thought several things at once.
“Do I say leave the coffee? The food is more vital than the caffeine”
“Do I just leave both? I need to buy the stuff for dinner tonight and I have to get to therapy tomorrow”
“Maybe I can borrow from Mum to do dinner and therapy”
“Oh god! They probably think I’m just angling for free stuff!”
“Fuck Georgia! Just pay by card and pray you make it to next week on what’s left”
“I’m going to throw up”
“Tell them it’s fine and pass your card over for fucks sake!”
So I take out my card and start to hand it over. I’m trying to put on a brave face but clearly I didn’t do much of a job of it. The cashier looks like a deer in headlights. She doesn’t know how to handle this kind of thing. She immediately tries to reassure me.
Then it happens.
I hear a gruff voice behind me ask,
“How much does she need?”
I turn and see the older lady who came in behind me and let me go ahead of her in the queue opening her wallet and looking at the cashier.
I’m still desperately trying to convince both women that it’s fine and I’ll pay but they don’t seem to hear me. By now I’m shaking and also crying. I can tell both women are uncomfortable so I desperately try to get myself under control. It’s not working. In the madness the cashier puts through the point discount and the Gruff Older Lady pays for my order. Now not only do I still have the $5 I was counting on from my points I have the other $6 I would have paid for my coffee too.
I move off to the side still loosing my shit and crying (embarrassingly) in a coffee shop, as the cashier takes Gruff Older Lady’s order and she pays and we all wait for our orders.
The whole shop has been watching this and not said a word. I think (it’s something of a blur) I may have hugged her. And I think it made her even more uncomfortable. Anyway, I’m still trying to get myself under control. Another patron comes over and asks if I’m ok and I tell her what’s just happened and she smiles and calmly chats to me till I’m calm and her order is called. She wishes me well and leaves.
My order is then called at the same time as Gruff Older Lady. I can barely look her in the eye. I’m so embarrassed. But I’m also so incredibly grateful so I look up and give a wobbly smile and thank her again as we put the lids on our coffees. She asks if I’m short of money and I admit that I am but I’m mostly coping without looking up from the counter.
Next thing I know she is opening her wallet again and pushing the last of her cash, $30, into my hands. I try to refuse and tell her she doesn’t have to do that, I’m ok. Again the tears threaten.
“Don’t you cry again!”
She tells me in that same gruff voice she used at the counter.
“You’ll set me off! Just take it! I know what it’s like to be where you are. I’ve been there myself. I’m a bit flush this week so I can afford to do this.”
I can do nothing but stare at my shaking hand now holding $30 and thank her profusely while trying not to cry on her. She simply gives me a small smile and murmurs,
“I’ve done my kind thing for the day.”
And leaves before I can say another word.
It’s taken me an hour to write this and I’m still shaken and overwhelmed.
This woman was so kind. It wasn’t the stereotypical warm, beneficent old woman with a big hug and a cheery smile. She was real and my gratitude seemed to make her uncomfortable. Like she hadn’t realized how big of an impact she would have when she decided to do what she did. She was gruff and awkward and that is the only thing that has me convinced that this really happened and I didn’t dream it.
Well, that and the lasting embarrassment from having had such a major breakdown in a public place.
I have now had breakfast and I’ll use the extra $30 for food. And it’s all thanks to that incredibly kind Gruff Older Lady.
I don’t know how to end this except to say again even though I am sure she’ll never see this…
Thank you. Paying for my breakfast the way you did has had a far bigger impact than I think you will ever know.