Yesterday I was at Target comparing brands of facial cleanser. I am super-cheap about this kind of stuff. A woman said Excuse me. She was in her thirties, I would guess, a woman with an olive complexion and dark hair. She had an infant strapped onto her chest.
She said, I ask you in the name of Jesus.
I must have looked confused, because she repeated it twice more. Finally I got it, and said, Ask me what?
She gestured to her shopping cart, which had 4 cans of Enfamil in it.
Do you need money? I asked.
No! No! I need help buying these. Her English was broken.
Do you need help with your food stamps or something? With WIC?
I no have papers. I no ask for money, she said. I ask for my child.
Do you want me to take these to the register and buy them for you? How much do they cost?
Forty, she said.
Jiminy crickets this stuff is expensive!
The baby started to squirm. She pulled a small bottle out of her bag. She proceeded to feed the baby, looking apologetic.
Is that your baby? Can you nurse it?
No, I have Crohn’s disease, she said. She gestured toward her breast, inviting me to notice that it was not full. She and I had full eye contact with each other. She looked tired and worried. The baby had a full head of dark hair, but was probably only two months old.
I thought: Maybe she is scamming me.
I thought: OK, maybe she is. I can live with that.
I told her: Let’s go, and put 2 of the cans in my cart. I wheeled to the register and paid for them. The clerk gave me a good coupon with the receipt — $7 off the next purchase of Enfamil — so I gave it to her, along with the receipt. We were both all teary-eyed. I said, God bless you, and she said, Thank you Jesus.
I’ll admit I was afraid — that she would ask more of me — so I ducked back into the store. But I couldn’t stand it. I had to come back out and see what she did next. She put the coupon away very carefully into a wallet. Then she pulled out a scarf to cover the baby’s head, and went out into the sunny day. She walked with just a bit of a waddle to the very far corner of the parking lot, to where a minivan was parked under a tree. She put the baby into its seat, then drove away.
I have no idea what I expected to happen.
With tears rolling down my face, I texted my husband: At Target. Spent $80 on baby formula for a stranger. The phone immediately binged with his response. Sounds good.
I couldn’t think why she approached me. Then my hand went to my neck, to the small Jerusalem cross I wear on a chain.
I don’t think that wearing a cross ever cost me anything before.
What would you have done?