favors i denied

i left the grocery store, panniers packed full of eggs and frozen green beans and others, swathed up to my eyes with a grey scarf. i walked my bike across the parking lot driveway, mashing the pedestrian cross button so the busy road would eventually stop for me.

a few steps away, he approached, knit cap pulled down past his eyebrows and grey hands jutting from the sleeves of a stiff sweatshirt. 'hey, can you do me a favor?' he asked.

'yeah, what's up?'

'can i get a light?' a cigarette jabbed my way. i shook my head.

'sorry, buddy.'

'oh, okay. can i ask for another favor?'

'sure thing.'

'you see, i work here at mcdonalds,' he started, gesturing to the drive-thru behind me with his unlit smoke. 'and i gotta get some roses for my mother who's in the hospital. but i can't go into trader joe's no more. can you go in there and buy me a dozen roses? i've got the money.'

the back of my neck prickled, even as i leaned in to hear him over the roar of traffic. i looked straight into his cataracts while he gave me his spiel, then flicked my gaze over to the street. it takes several minutes for the light to turn over.

'sorry, man, i can't help you,' i said, hoping to time my exit smoothly.

'why not?' he was accusatory now, challenging me to tell him the truth.

in my head, i spun through several answers. i'd rather he tell me why he really wanted a dozen roses; i'd seen him walking through traffic selling them to commuters. i'd have helped him get some roses to flipped if he asked me for that. then, i thought about ways he could have been setting me up; he left his money in mcdonald's where he worked, i just had to wait for him to get it, but i'd have to give him the roses i paid for anyway. and then i thought about even less generous possibilities; he'd offer to hold my bike while i was inside, or demand to know why i didn't trust him if i locked up anyway, or if i brought my panniers in with me.

i want to help strangers, but i don't trust strangers. the light was about to change. i lifted my chin that way. 'i just gotta get home, man, sorry. i can't help you. i hope you find someone who's got a few more minutes than i do.'

'damn. damn, it's cold out. you know what the weather's gonna be?'

this last thing he asked, i could answer. 'tomorrow's gonna be colder than today, maybe some snow. probably rough this week.'

'damn, it's so cold.'

the light changed. i nudged my bike into the street. 'sorry, man, stay warm, okay?'

02 December 2018 22:35

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