“Co-pay will be ten dollars ma’am.”
“Uh, what? T-ten dollars?” The woman turned to her husband and spoke quietly, but not too quiet that the receptionist couldn’t overhear.
“…last of our money. How will we go home? What will we eat tomorrow?”
Her husband reached up and gripped her hand. They looked at the child laying her head on his lap.
“We don’t have a choice,” he said, caressing her cheek. “Things will work out for themselves.”
The woman shakily turned to the receptionist, sliding a ten dollar bill from her battered purse.
“Ma’am, I apologize. I have reviewed your records again, and it seems that I have made an error,” the receptionist said. “It is not necessary to co-pay at this time.”
The woman just stood there dumbly, hope and joy and complete thankfulness suffusing her weary face like a break in an ugly storm. As the nurse came to receive them the receptionist dug into her purse, blinking through tear-filled eyes.
Her groceries bagged and shopping cart filled, she stood at the end of the check out line with slack-jawed dismay, her whole body slowly engorging with despair.
“Try it again, please.”
The clerk swiped her debit card once more and shook his head.
How could this be? She desperately hoped what she knew to be true wasn’t true. Robert was out pretty late last night. Did he go to the casino? Heart racing, she was a statue in the store with slightly trembling knees. Paralyzed.
“Look, lady, you dropped something.” The gentleman in line behind her was picking up, out of all things, a hundred dollar bill. Her hand covered her mouth.
“N-no, that’s not mine.”
“Well, It was just lying there, and you look like you could use it more than I could. Go on, take it. Go on.”
By the time she reached her car to unload the groceries she was weeping with great heaving sobs, her newborn son wailing accompaniment from the iron nest of the shopping cart.
She had been in business all day. There were no customers. People passed her by without a glance in her direction. What was wrong?! The product she served was of the best quality, and handmade with loving care. She had pasted flyers around the neighborhood in brightly coloured advertisement. She pouted angrily in the hot sun and watched the ice melt. Across the street, a shy little boy, five, maybe six years old, at the urging of his mother dawdled slowly towards her. He had a brown bowl cut and a cute little gap in his teeth. He walked with his hands twisting behind his back and when he finally arrived at her stand, he just stood there and looked back at his mother. She waved him on. He wouldn’t look at her and said through a bashful smile, “Two lemonades please.”
Her first customer!
“That’ll be fifty centh,” she lisped. Fresh ice for the first customer of the day! She told the boy to wait a moment and rushed into the house, going “YAHOOOO!” past her perturbed mother. She brought ice and poured a nice tall cup of lemonade. Then another. The boy’s mother came to take the drinks, and she beamed at them with a smile like a lemonade slice.
“Thank you,” she said and sat back, putting her hands behind her head. This was the beginning of an empire, she thought, admiring the glint of light on the quarters.