There was nothing special about Mathew Barns. He had a place to be and a time to be there. Sadly he had no means of getting there.
A plane brought him so far and then he was on his own. He was left with the clothes on his back and a small suitcase, but it felt like more than that to him. This was his new life, his adventure.
He pulled a map from a pocket in his thread bare black jeans, studying its features like a new language. Everything seemed foreign. Even the typical looking mini-golf center before him was like an alien.
The hot winds of summer tugged at his jacket, egging him to remove it. He discovered he was soaked with sweat when he did. He hadn’t realized how hot it was, but he didn’t have a way to escape it. He was standing in the grass beside a highway, staring across the street at the blinking sign of the mini-golf place. From there he could see a simple blue telephone fastened to an alcove in the wall.
That telephone was his goal.
There wasn’t a lull in traffic for awhile. It seemed like ages that he stood in the heat, sweating so much that the ink of his map stained his fingers. It was only minutes later, though, that a break appeared and he made his way across the two lanes. His little suitcase was tight in his grip, bouncing against his chest with each hurried step.
He reached for his pocket, searching for quarters, but his hand came out with only a gum rapper and a crumpled receipt. His heart stopped. Just one call and his friends would be on the way. He didn’t even need money for a cab. Just a quarter. One quarter.
Feeling as if he might faint, he dropped his suitcase onto the ground beside him, searching the gravel for abandoned coins. Just one would be enough. He only needed a few minutes worth of talking. Just one quarter and his adventure could begin.
He quickly discovered that there was no hope. The ground was clean.
Mathew Barns leaned his head against the cold brick wall. He could feel the sweat running down his back, the clothe of his t-shirt clinging to his body. He felt he may scream. All his preparation and he had forgotten a quarter.
Suddenly, there were whispers behind him, hushed but frantic like an argument. He opened his eyes enough to see two girls standing a few feet away. They were young, obviously here to golf and they were giving him strange looks. Upon catching his eye, though, the one stepped forward. Her eyes lingered on his suitcase and then returned to his face.
“Do you need help?” She asked. Her voice, he noted, was high and sweet was the falsehood one owns while talking with a stranger. “You look a little- Well, frustrated.”
It was then that her friend approached, giving him a wary look. “You ought to get out of this heat as well, hun. You’ll melt in those jeans.”
He felt his face burn with embarrassment. He had always been the helping hand to a distressed stranger. Never had he been the distressed stranger. He didn’t like asking for help. He didn’t like being a freeloader.
“Yes,” he said before he knew what he was doing. “I mean, do you have a quarter? I seem to have forgotten to grab one when I left. You see, I just arrived here by plane about ten minutes ago. My friend’s going to pick me up, but he hadn’t known what time I would be getting in so I was supposed to call him when I got here and… You don’t care about all that… I’m Mathew. I really just need one quarter, if you have one.”
Mathew Barns knew his face was red. He just hoped they mistook it as a symptom of the heat and not his embarrassment at his own foolish rambling.
He knew he wasn’t usually like this. Usually he would have had a better plan. He would have thought to bring some quarters, maybe a few dollars for emergencies, but here he was, stranded. And two girls were helping him make something as simple as a phone call a reality.
While he had been lost in his head, the first girl who’d spoken had been rifling through her purse. From it she pulled a handful of quarters and a couple dollars. She took his sweaty hand in hers and folded his fingers over the money. She smiled at him, sweetly, with teeth that were just a little crooked, and before he knew it they were gone. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to thank her and now they were gone.
Mathew Barns debated chasing them down not only to thank them but to return some of the money. He had only needed a quarter anyway, not the rest. But as he looked down into his sweat soaked hand at the money, he found himself turning from the door they had entered and to the phone.
It had been an act of kindness and who was he to interrupt that?