Fourth Kindling – The Stranger

Penn Station

She approached me swiftly and spoke quickly, each word tripping clumsily over the one before it. It was as if all these words had been filling her innards to the brim, and she just had to release them, all at once. And I’d seen this before. Sometimes emotion fashions a sieve just narrow enough for a flurry of pleas to flutter through, and the depth of a person’s desperation shows through the bone.

Just a minute ago I was surveying the crowd at Penn Station looking for my friend, to say goodbye to her, as she was about to catch a train leaving for Boston any minute now. And now, I was buried under an avalanche of a stranger’s pleas. She needed my help. That much I could gather. She needed to get home. She needed some money. For a train ticket. So she could get home. If only she could scrap together a few…

I interrupted her, and looked her directly in the eye. “Listen, you’ve come to the right person. Because whatever it is that you need, I am willing to help you. Just take a deep breath and tell me again what happened.”

Train ticket, sixty dollars, she sobbed. I looked in my wallet. I didn’t have that much. I asked her, would you come with me to the ATM? We marched up the stairs of Penn Station until I saw a familiar red Bank of America kiosk. I withdrew sixty dollars from my account, and handed it to her. Then I shook my wallet upside down. Whatever fell out, I handed it to her as well. I told her “Listen, take this money, you need it more than I do. Take this money and go home.”

She was grateful. She insisted on exchanging contact info. She was planning on moving into the city in three months, and she would be sure to contact me and pay me back. She was glad to have met a friendly face within a sea of intimidation that is New York City.

After she gave me a hug and left, I looked down at the email address she had scribbled onto my notepad. The first five letters were legible, but the last two or three letters were in a scribbly, ambiguous cursive I couldn’t quite make out. By the time I looked up again, she had already disappeared into the crowd, just as swiftly as she had appeared.

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