by Sheila Henry
Recently, I was looking through my treasure box. I hadn’t opened it in years and forgotten about the contents. The first thing I saw was the red and gold doily that aunt Ethel hand knitted and gifted me many years ago. It’s always good to spot something of hers, because I miss her so.
Next were handwritten letters from loved ones, some no longer here. I am not sure why I kept them, but they once meant something, perhaps providing comfort when I needed it most.
I couldn’t remember storing the gold necklaces I received as gifts from friends on my 40th birthday, but there they were, kept all these years. Gold necklaces are not my preferred style of jewelry. But it was wonderful to have received them at my surprise 40th birthday party.
Then there was the stop watch, a gift I received from George, the weary stranger from Russia. The watch reminded me of a chance encounter that brought extreme joy.
“My name is George. I am a scientist from Russia,” he told me on our unusual first meeting.
It was a beautiful sunny day in September, the sky an azure blue with fluffy white clouds that drew my eyes upwards. It was a little cooler than normal for the time of year. I had some errands to take care of in Edison, the next town over, a place I once lived and still frequented the markets for their exotic fruits.
As I was driving up the main road, I could see a person walking up ahead about half a mile or so away. He was a tall, lean man about 6’ 2” and I guessed he might have been in his late forties or early fifties. He was wearing a long, beige trench coat and was pulling a suitcase behind him. He also carried a bag in his other hand.
As I drove closer, I noticed something about the way he walked. His frame was bent forward, and he walked with a steady but slow gait. I could tell he was more than tired. Somewhere within myself, I was being told to stop and offer this man a ride.
The closer I got I knew I had to make a quick decision. Do I stop for him or not? I started applying the breaks to slow down, all the while questioning my myself about what to do. Suddenly, following my instincts, I made my decision. I drove slowly past the man and came to a complete stop.
Rolling down the window of the passenger side, I asked “Sir, would you like a ride to where you’re going?”
“Yes, yes, thank you,” he responded with a thick accent. I assumed it could be Russian. Identifying accents and their origin is an art I developed from working in retail. I worked with a diverse clientele. Clients would smile a happy smile, when I guessed where they were from originally.
I introduced myself as I put the car in drive.
“Where are you going?” I asked, as he settled in.
He handed me a piece of crumpled paper he took out of his pocket. It had a street address in Edison printed on it. “My name is George. I am a Scientist from Russia,” he spoke in his thick accent. “I came in at JFK airport from Russia and took the train to Edison.”
I kept driving and looking for the street. George told me it was off the main road we were on. However, I got to the end of the town, but there was no such named street as shown on the sheet of paper.
“Are you sure the street is off this road?” I asked. “We are now nearing the next town over, and I haven’t seen it.”
“Yes, it’s here”
George’s response was a sure indicator he had no idea where he was going. I thought, it’s up to me to find this place. I was fascinated, though, that he traveled this far to an unfamiliar country without having the specifics how to get to his intended destination.
As we were about to leave the town, I told him the street was not in the direction we were headed. I then stopped at a service station and purchased a map. The map showed the street we were searching for was on the opposite side of town, which was about a twenty-five-minute drive away. I had only one option I could think of and that was to bring him to the address. So, off we went.
At some point during the ride, he took out a stop watch from the bag he was holding on his lap, and handed it to me. “This gift is for you,” he said.
I initially declined the gift, telling him it was not necessary. However, he insisted I should have it. He showed me many more objects in his bag, items he brought as gifts. I saw bottles of vodka among them. I then accepted the watch, thanked him and placed it in the console.
We arrived at the destination about twenty-five minutes later. I accompanied George to the home. It was in a townhouse development. George rang the doorbell. After a few minutes, he knocked on the door. There was no response. We stood there for a few minutes longer. It appeared no-one was at the home. As we waited, George shared that the people who lived at the home were just his contacts. He did not know them personally, and they were not expecting him. Interesting!
I somehow felt responsible for George. I could not leave him to fend for himself. I knocked on the contact’s neighbor’s door, and when a woman answered, I introduced myself and George. I shared George’s story and asked would she put him up until her neighbor returned. She agreed to do so, and took George in. I gave him my phone number and asked that he contact me when he was settled in. I wanted to know how he made out.
After we said our goodbyes, I sat in my car to absorb the experience. It was surreal.
My heart was full that I was able to help this stranger. I wondered had I not stopped for him, how would he have gotten to his destination? I wondered if anyone else would have done the same. I know I was grateful for the opportunity.
On my way back home, I had an overwhelming feeling of joy. A feeling I could not articulate until recently when I came across this great word ‘eudaimonia’ which is described as a more powerful feeling than happiness. I felt it many times before when volunteering or just doing something random for a stranger. The feeling could be described as been lifted off the ground by a surge of energy or a rush of adrenaline.
About a week after meeting George, he called to let me know he had reached his final destination. He was settled in Ithaca, New York. He found employment there.
Many years later, as I held the watch in my hand, I thought of that random act of kindness. And I thought of George. I wondered how had he fared living in the U.S.
George’s story is a reminder to listen to our inner voice, that quiet voice that reaches out and nudges us to see opportunities to serve others; the “thank you’s” you receive are a blessing like no other. They really are.
About the author
Sheila’s writing style can best be categorized as Visual Poetry, blending emotion and vision into a poem or story of color. Her poems and short stories are featured at Spillwords Publications, Literary Yard, Sweety Cat Press Anthology, I, The Writer, and Poetica2 series.