A few days ago I was loading bags of groceries into the back of my car when I hear a tiny voice say “excuse me” from across the parking lot. I looked up and saw a dark haired woman approaching me. I knew instantly she was going to ask me for money. I have been asked in this same parking lot before by a woman who didn’t say anything but held a postcard sized note in front of me that read something about not being able to speak English and needing help. I smiled politely and shook my head “no” and left feeling guilty because it’s not in my nature not to want to help someone. What’s a couple bucks, I wondered.
But today was different. The woman approaching me cradled a baby no older than four or five months in her arm and an empty Dr. Brown’s bottle in her left hand. I don’t remember the exact words she said other than “milk for my baby.” My own daughter was still in the cart. I looked down at my handbag and saw a five dollar bill peeking out of my opened wallet. I watched as she shoved it into the right pocket of her black jeans and turn away.
I shut the back of my car and loaded my girl into her car seat. I went to ditch the cart and saw the woman at the driver’s door of a man getting out of his family van. I stopped in my tracks and could hear him ask “what?” in response to her request. She stood her ground as he unfastened his three kids from the van. I couldn’t figure out why she kept standing there. The man’s body language clearly showed he hadn’t planned on giving her anything. His wife came around the van from the passenger side to help with the kids and the woman asked again. I saw the wife, puzzled, look at the woman and then at her husband who was now headed toward the market. He barked “let’s go” to his family and just like that the woman was gone too.
I felt duped.
I gave her enough to buy a quart of milk and there she was walking further and further away from the grocery store. I got into my car and had the urge to stalk her through the parking lot. I wanted to see where she went. Instead, I said to myself that I should just exercise the benefit of doubt and with that I drove home.