The woman at the gas station knows how to tell a story. She approaches me just after I slide my credit card through the reader, my wallet still in hand. Her frizzy hair is pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, and she looks as if she's been crying. "I'm sorry I look like such a mess," she says to me, and, without waiting for me to respond to this unsolicited apology, she starts into a story about how she's just fled her abusive husband and the state of Nevada, and how she needs some money for gas to get to a safe house somewhere in Idaho. A police officer gave her a dollar she says, and some discount coupons to the Hart gas station down the road. As she says this, she motions to her car. Sure enough, the amount paid on the monitor reads $1.00 even.
I get completely caught up in the frantic urgency of her words. She has two boys, she says, the twelve year old in the front seat and the seven year old sleeping in the back. I think of my own two children at home, and, without hesitation, open my wallet and hand her a twenty. She gives me a hug and calls me sister. As she rushes back to her car, I hear her say to the boy in the front seat that I am a "very nice lady." I watch her drive away, feeling satisfied and compassionate.
It is only after she leaves that I start to wonder about the veracity of her story. I never did catch a glimpse of that seven year old sleeping in the back seat. And I have my doubts about those discount gas coupons to Harts. Why couldn't she have just filled up at this gas station? I wonder. I can't shake the feeling that I have been had. I should have offered to buy her gas, I think, just to be sure that gas was what she was really after, and not my twenty dollars. I should have offered to buy her gas, I think, just to be sure that I wasn't being scammed.
I get in my car and drive home, thinking about the woman's story, hoping it's true for my sake, and false for hers.