The Warping Man And The Waitress

in #bloglast year

I watched as the waitress lost her job.

It wasn't like I was in the restaurant to witness it. I was merely stopping to grab a bite to eat, on my way to somewhere else. I would have been perfectly content to not be there when it happened. It reminded me of my own dismissal, nearly six years ago.

Not that I needed anything to recall it. The memory was with me always. Sometimes, I thought it might consume me in hate and revenge. Fortunately, I've discovered an outlet, one that does more good than harm.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

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I didn't hear what was said. I just saw the waitress and someone who looked like an owner or supervisor, standing near the entrance to the kitchen. The waitress looked like she was in shock, on the verge of tears, while the supervisor tried to remain emotionless, but kept looking away as if he were ashamed.

When he left her, the young woman stood there for several seconds, before turning and disappearing from sight. Tears had begun to stain her cheeks.

I was just finishing my meal, so I went up to the counter and paid my bill. I watched for the waitress to return, but after a minute or two, I realized she must be going out some back way.

Not knowing if I would catch her or not, I went out the front and circled around to an alley. Near a large trash bin where she was tossing a large dark bag, I found her.

"Excuse me," I said. I tried not to startle her but succeeded in doing so anyway.

"Oh! Yes?" she said, attempting a smile. She had a beautiful one. Genuine, luminous.

If I'd been twenty years younger, I'd probably be attracted to that smile. Now, it only reminded me of my wife and how much I still loved her. How much I would always love her.

"Here," I said, holding out my hand, "I wanted to give you a tip."

"A tip?" She looked down at my palm. Sitting in the center was a rather sad looking penny. It's compatriots in my pocket weren't much better or I would have at least offered her a shinier one. "But I didn't serve you," she said.

"I know. But I get the impression that you've been let go, and I think you could use this."

While I certainly didn't mean to do so, my words seemed to crush her. As if all her energy exited her body at once, she collapsed onto the steps of the backdoor and stuck her face in her hands. Through soft sobbing, she said, "You saw."

"I did."

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said, lifting her head. "I have a daughter. I'm trying to get through college. I need to work."

"What happened?"

My query was all she needed. Words flooded out. The restaurant wasn't doing so well. It would have to make do with less, while still serving as many patrons as possible. She and a young man had been the last to be hired. They were the first to be let go. There might be other layoffs, if the restaurant didn't turn around.

"I'm sorry." I said.

"They're not going to be pay me for the last week and a half." She started to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. "They don't have the money."

"That figures." As if losing her job weren't enough. Of course, such a thing couldn't be legal, but she didn't seem like the type who would fight it. It certainly couldn't be much, even though she must need every bit of it to scrape by. Rent. Food. The occasional nice thing for her daughter.

"What am I going to do?" She looked like she wanted to break down again, but somehow held it together. Her eyes met mine, pleading. In them, though, I didn't see malice or hopelessness, but a frail yet very visible determination. I doubted this was her first major bump in the road. She was probably in her late 20s—old enough to get around the block a time or two.

"What are you studying?"

"I want to be a nurse practitioner."

"How far are you in?"

"Four years. Two and a half to go."

"And you've been doing it all on your own?" I didn't want to sound incredulous, but it didn't seem possible.

Fortunately, she didn't take it the wrong way. Instead, she seemed to know I was complimenting her. "My mother watches my daughter when I'm at work. I've been taking correspondence courses as much as I can. This job had flexible hours, so I studied around it."

"I'm glad to hear there's some support. I'm guessing your mother isn't in much of a position to do much more herself, though."

"No," she said, shrugging.

"Okay. I was pretty sure I wanted to help before, but now I'm as positive as I can possibly be." I held out my hand with the penny in it.

She looked at it for a moment. Some people might wonder what a penny could do, or think that I was trying to pull a cruel joke. If she did, she didn't say it.

"I can't take your money," is what she finally said. She looked away and stood up. "I probably should be going now."

"Wait." I mustered all the gentleness I could. "I know it doesn't look like much yet, but we have a little work to do."

"Work?"

This was the tricky part. It tended to weed out those who actually still had some means of recourse, and those who had nowhere else to turn. A leap of faith if you will.

"Yes," I said, smiling. "You don't have to, but if you will be patient with me, I think it will all be worth it."

She looked from my face, down to the penny and back. She was obviously unsure of what was supposed to happen. I was a perfect stranger, and not so suave or disarming not to leave some amount of doubt or discomfort.But I'd learned that trying to force things tended to make things worse, no matter how much I wanted to help, or how much the help was needed.

I had a tendency to come off creepy rather than earnest.

"What do we need to do?"

Good. That was the first step. A baby step of trust.

"Well, it might not sound like much, but all I need you to do is touch the penny."

"Touch it?"

I nodded. "I don't know why, but yeah. You need to do that first."

"Okaaaaay." Not sounding at all certain, she reached out with a finger. I felt a slight push down on the penny as she did. "I don't understand what this..."

Reflexively, as her finger cleared, my hand formed a fist, swallowing up the penny. She looked at me like, "What are you doing?" but then I reopened my hand.

In it, where the penny had been, was a dollar bill. It was a little shabby and worn, but it had replaced the penny.

She gasped. Took a step back. "What the...?"

"Okay. The penny is now a dollar. I think we should do this again."

"Do what?"

"Well, a dollar used to go a lot further, but we probably should up it some more."

"Sir, I..."

"I know. If there was another way, a faster way, to do this, I'd do it. Unfortunately, there isn't."

"I don't even know what this is," she said. "A magic trick? Why are you doing this?"

This was usually about the point where things could fall apart. It was very easy for someone's patience to flee, to feel like they were being played, or that I was purposefully toying with them. The problem was, I didn't know how else to do this. It certainly looked like a cheap magician's trick, but it didn't work any other way. I tried. And the whole process had its limits. In other words, I couldn't just hand her a bunch of money out of thin air. Okay, eventually, yes, but we had to build up to it first.

"I want to help," I said, "and this is the way I know how. Otherwise, you're stuck with a penny."

"But now it's a dollar."

"Which we should be able to stretch some more."

"By touching it again?"

"Actually, if you take it and then give it back, it will work, too. Would you like to do that, instead?"

She gave me a look that read like none of this was making sense, why was she even there? But her eyes fell back to the dollar, and for whatever reason, she took it.

"Here," she said, immediately handing it back.

"Thank you."

I took the dollar and then folded it in half. "This would be the time it fails," I muttered. So far it hadn't, but there was always a first time, since who knew how it was possible in the first place. As I unfolded it again, I saw the two zeroes and sighed in relief.

So far, so good.

"Okay. We've got one more step."

Since the transformation from a penny to a dollar is a little easier to spot, I held up the bill.

She looked at it, blinked, then it finally registered. Surprise filled her face. "That's a hundred dollar bill."

"Yes, it is."

"And that's for me?" Her hand flew to her lips. Her eyes were starting to well up again. "Thank you. That's a very generous tip, considering I didn't even wait on you."

"I mean, you're welcome to stop there, but I did say there's another step."

"Another?"

"Yes." I held up both my hands. "Now, there's a couple of ways to do this last step, but it's generally safest if I just put this in one of your pockets."

"Safest?" she asked, that brilliant smile of hers fading a bit.

"I just mean, I don't want you or I to drop anything." I took a step towards her, hands still outstretched. "May I?"

"I guess?"

Slowly, I took the hundred and pushed it inside her pocket.

"Okay. Now, I could have done this a bit sooner, but now is as good a time as any while we're waiting," I said. "My name is Thomas."

"Leticia," she said without hesitation, pronouncing it in Spanish.

"Nice to meet you," I said, smiling. "Okay, so now that we at least know each other's names, I want you to reach into your pocket and show me what's there."

A quizzical look crossed her face. "It's safe, right?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. It might take some doing to get it out of your pocket, though."

"Some doing?" She looked down at her coat pocket, then patted it. She was expecting to feel anything, but when she did, she gasped. Her hand flew into the pocket and touched something.

"Can you get them out?"

"I..." She struggled a moment, but then she withdrew her hand. She held a fistful of 100 dollar bills.

"Okay, so this is the last part. You need to count them. Make sure they're all there."

"Just how many are there?" she asked, completely taken aback.

"A hundred," I said, as matter-of-factly as possible.

"A hundred," she repeated, with much less certainty.

I nodded.

For a moment, she just stood there. Then she turned, bent over a bit and started placing the bills on the top step. Fortunately, there wasn't much wind, but I came around to watch and block any breeze. Hopefully, no one would come out the backdoor, either.

As she made her way through the bills, It was easy to see that she was used to handling money, and was very proficient at it. Maybe she'd worked as a teller, too, since they can handle larger sums of money at one time. Restaurants most often deal with cards and smaller amounts of change.

She counted to herself, but when she reached 95, she finished out loud. "Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine...one hundred!" She tidied the bills, then scooped them up. "That's ten thousand dollars!"

"Yes, it is. You probably shouldn't wave them around. Maybe put them back in your pocket until you get home."

"Oh." She looked at the bills then slowly stuffed them back in her pocket. "They won't disappear, will they?" She sounded ashamed to ask.

"No," I laughed, "Not until you spend them, anyway."

"They really are mine?"

"Unless you don't want them. Someone else probably would, though."

"I..." She dropped her head. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say, anything. I'm just sorry we had to go through all that. It would be a lot easier if we could just dispense with the theatrics."

"I'm not sure what you mean by that," she said, "I don't know what any of this means. But I'm grateful."

Suddenly, her arms were around me and she squeezed long and hard, as if she wanted to be sure I was real, and then to ensure I knew it was heartfelt. Long moments later, she relented, but deposited a kiss on my cheek.

"How can I ever repay you?" The words nearly caught in her throat and she had to clear it.

"Get your degree," I said. "Give your daughter the best life you can, and be happy with your life."

"That's it?" I couldn't tell if she thought it was too much or too little to ask in return.

"That's enough." I said.

"Then, I will." That quiet determination she had given a glimpse of earlier came back, lingered a little longer.

"Good," I said. I reached out a hand. "I probably should be going. I know I held you up from getting home."

"Oh. Time well spent," she said, smiling and taking my hand.

"Goodbye, Leticia."

"Goodbye."

I started to walk away. I couldn't see, but I'm sure she was watching me go, still not quite believing what had just transpired. For me, that was the fun part. The humility of the recipient and the total lack of entitlement. So worth it. Then, I remembered I'd failed to mention something.

"Sorry. Forgot." I said, turning back. As I'd figured, she was looking at me when I turned around.

"What?"

"Well, the money you have can spend like ten thousand dollars, or it can spend like one million."

"A...million?"

I nodded. "It can also spend like a penny."

"I don't understand."

"I wish I could explain it." Even after several years of doing this, I couldn't. "I think as long as you stay true to yourself, be the good person you are, and make good, honest decisions, you won't just have ten thousand dollars. The money will stretch another hundredfold."

"And if I don't, I'll wind up with a penny."

I nodded. "You got it."

"I don't know what I got, but again, thank you." She looked like she wanted to give me another hug and cry at the same time.

"You're welcome," I said before she could act on either. "Okay. Now I better be going."

"Goodbye, Thomas," she said.

"Leticia," I said, doing my best Spanish accent.

We exchanged waves, and then I left her in the alleyway at the steps to the backdoor of a restaurant she no longer worked at.

That was the last I saw of her.

There is a rest of the story, though. I stumbled upon it just as accidentally as I came to be in the restaurant the day she was let go. It's perhaps the greatest reward to what I'm able to do. Finding out what people did with their potentially life changing event.

Of course, money isn't the answer to everything. It can just as easily be the opposite—the catalyst for all problems. It's in the hands of the user, after all.

As for Leticia's fate, I think I'll hold off for now and see what you all think she did.

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Nice little story, I wonder what did she do with it?

Hey, @bashadow.

No guesses? :)

I'd like to think that she did this:

After some deliberation and research, she put $7,000 of the money in the bank for a few months living expenses, and invested the rest. As she went paying bills, she found that the money did stretch a hundredfold—so much so, that she was able to invest much more. She didn't have to worry about working, so she was able to get through school much faster. Her investments grew as well, to the point where before she was able to finish school, she had $1 million in investments (which then stretched out another hundredfold).

In addition to all that, she also met, eventually dated and then married a surgeon who guest lectured at the college she was able to attend. Along with her daughter, which he adopted, they had two more children, another girl and then a boy. Neither of them, with her money (and his own investments), really needed to work again, but since he loved his work and she could see her own patients, they took their family and traveled to areas of the world where their expertise was sorely needed and did nearly all of it for free.

They also set up a foundation to provide medical scholarships for single mothers, and provided monies for hospitals, clinics and equipment in half a dozen places worldwide.

A worthy use of a penny stretched to the ends of time.