Pay It Forward

I stopped at the Subway by the airport after work. While arbitrarily attempting to comply with the contradictory multitude of signs regarding covid-safety, I moved along behind a man and a woman as they traded a succession of misheard questions and comments from the sandwich artist. I suspect that the sandwich artist was a mumbler before the epidemic put a mask on his face. Mumbling is one of my gifts, too, passed through my dad’s DNA.

As I neared the end of my sandwich trek, a commotion at the register commenced.

“Ma’am, we don’t have anywhere near one hundred dollars in the store.” The clerk spoke to the woman in front of me. He waved a $100 bill back toward her. “Can you let me leave my information and an IOU? I’ll be back to pay.” The clerk traded a can-you-believe-this look with the other worker standing next to him. The wife exchanged a look with her husband, one that said, “I might lose my literal mind here.”

I tapped the husband on the shoulder. As he turned, I said, “Let me buy y’all lunch. You can pay it forward. We don’t need to exchange information. Just enjoy your day!” He smiled but also nervously looked at his wife. “Oh, thanks!” the wife said. I let her rattle off a few pleasantries, the ones we’re obligated to offer when someone catches us off guard.

When I left the store, the husband and wife were pulling around the corner. The husband waved exaggeratedly at me. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it. When I looked at my receipt, I realized that only one of them ordered a meal. It occurred to me that I might have saved that husband’s life – or the life of the people in the Subway had no one stepped up to show either logic or compassion.

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