Gnats, Camels, and Oxycontin

She saw him three cars away and walking fast in her direction. What pocket had she left her keys in? She shoved her right hand, then her left into her jacket pockets and fumbled past loose bills and gum wrappers until she felt her key fob. The car beeped twice, wrong button. Now he stood beside her. His hair was matted with grease and he wore a ripped nylon jacket and filthy sweat pants.

“Ma’am, I haven’t eaten in a week. Spare 50 cents?”

Drugs. Hard Liquor. That’s what he’s after.

“I don’t have any cash on me,” she said, ” But if you’ll meet me at the box store across the street, I’ll buy you as much food as you can carry.”

“Thank you. God bless you. I’ll be there.”

The woman drove to the store, where she waited and watched as the ragged man crossed the intersection. She met him by the shopping carts, and, true to her word, she bought him all the food he could carry: without considering if the CEO of the chain takes sex vacations in Indonesia or if the CEO’s son tends to pass his allowance on to the dealer who lurks by his high school.

or if the clerk uses his pay check to buy more beer or if the checker is trying to keep food on the table for his three kids.

or if his second cousin, the one who farms a thousand acres of wheat somewhere in the Midwest will be able to make his mortgage payments this year or if he’ll sell out to a larger, presumably more efficient corporation.

or if that chicken ever saw the sun or had room to stretch its wings or if it was even dead at the moment of dismemberment.

or if the petroleum used to produce and ship that box of granola bars is supporting an oppressive regime or driving nations to war.

or if the factory worker who produced that plastic silverware is a Chinese child who works 14 hours a day to help feed his brothers and sisters.

or if the low cost of subsidized US corn is forcing Central American farmers off their land, away from their families, and north to the US so they can work as undocumented migrant laborers and if, perhaps, someone wants to keep it that way.

And if she, a woman who just wants to do the right thing, has anything to do with it.

These things I should have done: without neglecting the others.

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