Ms Gibbs was going through the most challenging week of her life when a kind acquaintance noticed her and put her worries to rest.
The old woman with the uncombed hair and the torn shawl was beginning to draw the store manager’s attention. On any given day he would have missed her if she hadn’t made the third tour of the store, taking things off the shelves, examining them, and putting them back again.
But it was the slowest day of the week, and that afternoon Mrs Gibbs’ face was a face the store manager saw constantly from the start of his shift until midday.
In fact, Mrs Gibbs was having one of those days again when she couldn’t find anything she could afford for that night’s dinner.
Usually she could buy some potatoes, fruit, or at least a loaf of the cheapest bread. But today was a particularly difficult day. It was the last week of the month and she had visited every grocery store in the neighborhood looking for something to buy with loose change.
“If it wasn’t for the broken pipe that almost flooded the kitchen, I could have saved myself the repairs and had a hearty meal today,” she thought.
This was the third month in a row that her meager pension ran out and she had to spend a whole week searching for crumbs.
“Can I help you with something?” someone asked Mrs. Gibbs.
The unexpected question snapped her back to reality. Lost in thought, she couldn’t remember sitting down on a stool in the deli department.
“No son. I was just… resting.”
Mrs Gibbs noticed the slight distrust in the manager’s eyes as she held her folded grocery bag. She left the store as fast as she could.
It was a long way home and the sun in the sky didn’t help. She shuffled her feet down the street, careful not to completely loosen the dangling sole of her right shoe.
There were cafes and juice bars along the way. “At least one of them would like to help me with a bottle of water and a sandwich,” she thought. But she suppressed every slight impulse to approach the shops. That was Mrs Gibb’s Achilles heel – she could never bring herself to ask for the help she needed.
After quelling her thirst and ignoring the growling of her stomach for 30 minutes, she was finally able to see her house down the street.
It was a tiny apartment with remnants of blue and white paint and a decrepit roof that would cost her significantly over the following month.
Fido, the neighbour’s dog, usually ran over to her around this time, but that day he wasn’t around. Instead, she saw something shocking: the neighbor, Fido’s owner, snuck out of her house and ran back into his garden.
“Hey! Hey!” Mrs. Gibbs called, running towards the man. At that moment the sole of her shoe came loose and stopped her.
“Wasn’t that Charlie? What was he doing on my porch? Did he… steal?”
Diana didn’t want to believe it because Charles seemed like a good person. He tried to find a permanent job. He supported a pregnant wife and three children in his hometown. And he was always distant but kind to Mrs. Gibbs.
Only now did it hit her. All of these were reasons enough for Charlie to resort to stealing!
When Ms. Gibbs finally reached her doorstep, she realized how wrong she was. The old woman found a bag of vegetables, a box of canned goods, buns wrapped in newspaper, and three bottles of fruit juices of different flavors.
She was relieved yet overwhelmed by the neatly arranged meal on her doorstep. “That’s enough for me for a week!” she thought.
“Charlie? Charlie! I know you can hear me,” Mrs. Gibbs called, trying to see through the tall bushes that served as a fence between the houses.
“Get out or I’ll call Gloria!” she yelled, sounding impatient.
Charlie stepped forward quietly, avoiding eye contact with his neighbor.
“Maybe I’ve crossed the line. I mean, what difference does it make that I noticed Ms. Gibbs looking for something at the grocery store? She doesn’t even know I work there now. Knowing her, she would.” ashamed that I saw her in that condition.”
“How are you today, Ms. Gibbs?” Charlie asked, immediately regretting his banal question.
“Why did you do that?” Mrs. Gibbs asked, getting straight to the point. She pointed to the mountain of food in front of her door.
It took Charlie a moment to gather his words. “I saw you at the grocery store. I knew you were too proud to ask for help. And I thought helping anonymously was the only way to help you.”
“You should have done the anonymous part better, don’t you think?” Mrs. Gibbs asked him in a very different, light-hearted tone.
Charlie was initially shocked by the sudden change in his neighbor’s voice, but he quickly agreed.
The next day, Charlie was helping a customer at the grocery store when he was suddenly called into the store manager’s office.
He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he walked to the director’s office. “I can’t afford to lose this job either.”
To his surprise, the store manager was in a high spirits and was talking to an old woman. Sure enough, it was Mrs. Gibbs.
“Well, Ms. Gibbs tells me that you snuck expired and rejected products out of the store yesterday.” The manager stopped laughing.
“I’m sorry…that’s right. I gave her some expired cans of beans and bottles of juice.”
“Well, you should have considered that your actions will have greater consequences,” the manager said in a stern voice. “As a result of your actions, two things will happen now.”
Charlie was fighting the urge at that moment to run away and never look back. What will he say to his wife? Where should he find another job?
“First, take this,” said the leader, handing Charlie an envelope.