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The fare was $3.05. I had exact change, which was good, because the only other bill I had was a twenty and if I used it in the metrocard machine I would’ve gotten seventeen dollars back in change. My purse was heavy enough. I sighed as the machine sucked in my money. It had been a long, mind-numbing day. I was relieved when the sitter walked through the front door, freeing me to head off in the direction of the metro, to dinner in the city with my husband. And the further I got from my day, the deeper my brain nestled itself into my thoughts. Soon I’d be on the train with thirty minutes to stare off and decompress. I liked disappearing into crowds. Slipping completely unnoticed into the mass of peak-hour foot traffic. It made me feel like a part of something bigger. A part of something that didn’t need me to exist.
As I grabbed my metrocard from the machine, a man rushed up beside me. He was so close that if I turned I would’ve bumped into him.
“I just need a dollar for the metro, see?” He reached over me and inserted his metrocard. The machine indicated that he had a balance of $1.65. This made him panic. “Please help me.” He was so close to me I couldn’t focus on what he was saying. I just wanted to get away from him.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t have a dollar,” I replied, taking a few steps back. Technically I didn’t have a dollar. I didn’t have any more singles. I had a twenty, and probably some change, though I wasn’t sure how much. But instead of checking, I took a few more steps back. He looked up at me. Our eyes locked. I knew at that moment I should help him. I can’t explain how I knew, but I did. I get that feeling sometimes. A strange sense of peace and the understanding of what I need to do. This kind of understanding often makes me feel a little nervous and challenged because it leads me to act, which is out of my comfort zone. But not this day. This day it led me to irritation and defiance.
Just knowing that I “needed” to help him made me angry. I just wanted to be alone, was that so bad? Was I supposed to help everyone? I gave money away all the time. All. The. Time. Charities, church, people on the street. The images of people I’d recently helped flashed through my mind, and made everything feel very heavy. And justified. I neared the escalator.
“No,” he said. “Just one dollar. For the metro. Just in the machine. Please.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t have one dollar.” This time I was very aware of my lies. And hearing them come out of my mouth made me want to run away from myself. But still, and I’m not sure why (other than being utterly selfish and picking an unfortunate moment to stand my ground), I refused to help.
A woman stepped up from behind me and offered her help. He broke the stare and turned to her. I rushed off. Alone. But when I reached the platform and felt the rush of air as the train approached, I was overcome by the sadness and shame that accompanies being disobedient. Not guilt, because God doesn’t work in guilt. But it’s a disappointment I know well enough that it embarrasses me to admit it. Between my parents and God I’ve been disobedient more times than I could admit if I tried. Most of the time (as an adult at least) I’ve repented and sought forgiveness right away and had the chance to make things right before it was too late. But not this time. I repented, yes. But someone else stepped in where I refused. Sure there would be more chances. There are always more chances to give. To obey. But I’d missed this one. It was gone.
Thirty minutes later I reached the U Street stop. I exited the metro car and headed toward the escalator. I was eager to get outside, eager to shake off the sadness. I took comfort in the fact that at least I never carried any kind of God paraphernalia with me. At least the man didn’t know that I was a Christian, one more person who claimed to love God, yet didn’t act like it. But I knew. And God knew.
I tried to shake it off as I inserted my card into the exit turnstile, but the machine spit it back out. I tried again. And again the machine refused it.
I asked the metro attendant for help and she pointed toward the “Additional Fare” machine. But it didn’t make sense. I didn’t need to add money to the card. I’d triple-checked the fare chart before purchasing a card, using exact change since I wouldn’t be taking the metro back. I inserted my card. The amount needing to be added so that I could exit flashed across the machine.
I stood there. Staring at the machine. I grabbed my card back and re-inserted it.
How was it even possible?
I dug into my wallet and fished out four quarters, inserting the money I’d pretended not to have.
And even after that, I still had four quarters left.
I exited metro station into the coolness of the evening, grateful for the woman who helped out when I wouldn’t, and sad for what I’d willingly missed out on being a part of.
©2012 CEK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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