The Writer returned to the center. It was practically deserted. The woman was drinking coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, and the girls were eating chips and watching a Christmas cartoon on television. She had changed the station. Just like that. Just got up and changed hate to joy with a push of a button. The world can work like that too, sometimes.
A sticky heat rushed up inside the Writer. He walked up to the counter and the man came over.
“I want to buy tires for that woman sitting over there,” he said gesturing. “The best you have. It can wait until after the ice storm but I’ll pay for it now.. She’s going to leave the Honda here until the day after Christmas.”
He fished out his wallet and produced a credit card.
The counter man shot him an odd, smirking look, a “you sucker” look. Then he rattled off some holiday all-weather specials and the transaction was completed.
A chorus of giggles emanated from behind the Writer. He checked its source: the girls were laughing at something on television. He began walking over and the woman saw him and stood up to meet him. The hood was off and all her hair was coiled over her right shoulder.
“I bought you some new tires for Christmas. They’ll put them on when the shop reopens and then you can hit the road,” he said.
She hesitated, then said, “Thanks. I’m obliged.” A cracked smile formed at the edges of her mouth.
The Writer still didn’t get that word. He vaguely recalled a poem by Pablo Neruda called “The Poet’s Obligation,” where the poet boldly announces his noble obligation to serve distressed humans by helping them hear the old, stirring sound of the ocean. It was the poet’s “destiny” to do so. It was such a heroic metaphor and absolutely worthless in a moment of crisis. The Writer wondered if Neruda was a phony. If every single writer alive was a phony.
“I have an idea,” said the Writer.
But really, he didn’t. He just improvised. And it went something like this: I’ll pay for three nights in the motel for you and the girls. I’ll buy you a phone at the convenience store and put a hundred minutes on it. I’ll give you some cash to buy some food. I can check on you later if you want or you never have to hear from me again.
She listened without expression and that unnerved the Writer. Was she capable of expression? Was she supposed to act a certain way?
“Okay,” she said. She accepted his offer without expression. Was she supposed to act a certain way?
She left him, gathered up the girls, and explained to them they were leaving.
He watched her and thought: She’ll trash the room and run up a huge bill on his card. She’ll meet some meth head at the convenience store and they’llshoot up in front of the kids while watching Frosty the Snowman. She’ll steal. She’ll text him asking for more money.
He stopped himself. He remembered something his mother taught him long ago. She did more than teach him the lesson with words. She modeled it until the day she died.
Give without expectation of reward. You might get burned, You might save someone’s life. You’ll probably never know what transpires when you give. You just give.
Writing isn’t giving. Giving is giving.
A few minutes later, the woman and girls caried a few bundled possessions they’d scavenged from the Honda and struggled across the icy parking lot to the motel. The Writer brought up the rear and toted a black leaf bag full of clothing and blankets over his shoulder. It was all very Santa-like if Santa had shifted his priority to the homeless, as he well should.